RICHARD-SAIZ-02032021-KS-205 (copy)

Richard Saiz and his dog "Teddy" in their home in Denver's Bear Valley neighborhood on Feb. 3, 2021. 

A bill to cap the amount of money landlords can charge tenants for having a pet passed its final vote in the Colorado legislature Wednesday, and now only needs the governor's signature to become law. 

If signed into law, House Bill 1068 would limit pet rent to 1.5% of the owner’s monthly rent or $35 per month, whichever is greater, in addition to capping pet deposits to $300 on top of existing security deposits and making pet deposits refundable. 

The bill would also prohibit homeowner insurance providers from denying policies based on specific dog breeds and would require law enforcement conducting evictions to give any pets present to the tenant or, if the tenant is not there, turn the pets over to a local animal shelter or rescue.

"This is an incredibly important bill to keep families whole," said bill sponsor Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster. “We know that over 75% of renters do have pets and one of the major reasons people don’t leave homelessness is in order to keep their pet."

Pet rents and deposits vary widely in Colorado, with most renters typically spending between $25 and $100 per month for pet rent and between $200 and $500 for one-time nonrefundable pet deposits. 

The Senate approved HB 1068 in a 20-14 vote on Wednesday, following the House's 34-25 passage last month. 

All Republican lawmakers voted against the bill in both chambers, in addition to a handful of Democrats. In the Senate, Sens. Joann Ginal of Fort Collins and Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada were the only Democrats to vote "no" on the bill.

Opponents argued that the bill would dis-incentivize landlords from accepting tenants with pets, leading to less pet-inclusive affordable housing. Under the bill, landlords would still be able to restrict certain breeds or not allow any pets at all. 

"If you’re trying to increase the ability to rent to pet owners, this is definitely not what we should be doing," Ginal said. “It will probably limit more than increase places for people who have pets to rent."

Ginal said the caps on pet rent and deposits are too low, making renting to pet owners financially risky for landlords. She spoke of one of her constituents who said they rented a condo to a tenant with a dog and the dog caused $7,000 in damage from scratching and soiling the carpet and cabinets.

Proponents of the bill argued that while pets pose some financial risk, landlords often charge more than what is reasonable.

A 2019 national survey from the Michelson Found Animals Foundation found that damages were reported for only 9% of pets, with the cost averaging at $210. Only 2% of pets were reported to cause damages requiring a security deposit deduction. 

Other opponents lamented the government getting involved with private property and contracts. 

“This is just a gross distortion of private property rights. The owners of these rental properties, they should be able to set the fees to what they want," said Sen. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs. "If you cannot afford or think a pet deposit is egregious … maybe you just shouldn’t have a pet.”

Sponsors have gradually weakened the bill to help appease critics. The bill previously sought to cap pet rents at 1% of monthly rent or $25, but the House raised the dollar cap to $35 and the Senate raised the percentage to 1.5%. 

As originally introduced, the bill would have completely prohibited pet rent and deposits and blocked housing developments that don’t allow pets from claiming the Colorado Affordable Housing tax credit. However, that version of the bill was quickly rewritten in committee. 

Proponents said these concessions have gotten the bill to a good place, while maintaining the core goal of preventing renters from losing their pets. 

At many Colorado animal shelters, housing instability is the No. 1 reason that pets are surrendered. In the first two months of 2023, around 200 pets were surrendered to Dumb Friends League shelters in Colorado due to problems with housing, not including homelessness, according to the organization. 

“So many of these pets are being turned into rescues and there’s no need for that," said bill sponsor Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont. "We’re hoping this bill will help contribute to happy families all around." 

HB 1068 will next be sent back to the House to approve changes made by the Senate. The bill will then go to Gov. Jared Polis for final consideration. 

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