Why are landlords in Modesto saying ‘no’ to renters with pets? Even therapy dogs?

Pet owner struggles to find housing in Modesto

In a tight real estate market, it is difficult enough for people to compete for the available rental housing in Stanislaus County, California. But pet owners are especially having a tough time.
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In a tight real estate market, it is difficult enough for people to compete for the available rental housing in Stanislaus County, California. But pet owners are especially having a tough time.

Note to readers: Modesto is facing a housing affordability and availability crisis. The Modesto Bee is investigating how renters and home buyers are making it work as the cost of living rises in Stanislaus County. Local journalism like this matters. And your support makes it possible. Subscribe by clicking here.

In a tight real estate market, it is difficult enough for people to compete for the available rental housing in Stanislaus County.

The choices are more slim for those like Cindy Burns of Modesto, who are not finding many property owners who allow pets.

Burns has a 5-year-old chihuahua, named Koda, and on two occasions owners declined to rent to her because the 8-pound dog came with the package.

Burns, 56, said she scrolls through dozens of rental listings before finding a place where she, her boyfriend and Koda can share a home. With dozens of house hunters applying for rentals, Burns has not had luck in her four-month search for housing.

“He does not dig. He does not chew. He does not bark much,” Burns said. “I have had him for five years. I can’t give him up.”

Some suggest that landlords are being heartless in banning pets. For many households, a dog or cat is part of the family.

“This is a problem I’m having exactly,” Elizabeth Andrews wrote in a post on the Modesto Bee’s Facebook page. Andrews and her fiance can afford the steeper rental costs in the Modesto area, but “we can’t take our fur babies with us, so my fiance and I feel like we are forever stuck renting a room from our family.”

Property owners discuss issues

Don Lawson, a residential property owner, clearly spelled out his policy on Facebook. “We allow absolutely no pets in any of our rentals. Even the fake emotional support animals are not accepted.”

Ben Sweet, president of Sweet Properties in Modesto, said residential properties within urban neighborhoods or city limits often prohibit animals. He said pet owners, especially those with large dogs, may consider a rental home in the country.

“With the properties that we manage in the country, it is pretty much presumed that people may have a dog or a child involved in 4-H, and the property accommodates that,” Sweet said.

There are reasonably priced rental homes near almond orchards or dairies if renters can live with the negatives, such as well water, septic tanks, dust and flies. But the positives are the country lifestyle and the freedom to keep animals, Sweet said.

For rental homes in the city or close to neighbors, it depends on the particular owner. Those that allow pets may impose breed restrictions or weight limits, such as a dog up to 20 pounds.

Oftentimes, property owners prohibit pets out of experience, Sweet said. An animal owned by a previous tenant might have caused extensive damage to floor coverings or woodwork. Stains and odors can ruin the carpeting down to the pad and the concrete slab. And the $300 to $500 pet deposit won’t cover replacement of all or part of the carpet in the home.

Owners also worry about liability, Sweet said. For example, a more aggressive dog could injure a neighbor after getting loose or slipping through a hole in the fence.

Some renters applying for listed homes have a service animal to assist them with physical, mental or emotional issues. A prospective tenant with good credit history and references can’t legally be rejected for having a certified service dog, Sweet said.

People with disabilities and documentation for a support animal are protected from discrimination by federal law.

A review of listings showed that 10 of 12 large apartment complexes in Modesto allowed pets. Some had breed restrictions or allowed two pets up to 25 pounds each. Pet owners pay a $300-$500 deposit and may be charged extra rent of $15-$35 per month. One apartment complex charged $15 rent and a $300 deposit for a single cat.

A more than six-month search

Still, a Ceres house hunter, who has searched for more than six months, said that landlords should loosen up their restrictions. “If you have any pets, you’re especially discriminated against,” the Ceres woman told The Bee. “So my chances of finding a home are slim to none.”

Burns began a daily search for a rental home in April after getting a 60-day notice from a landlord, who wanted to live in the house rented by Burns and her boyfriend.

Two months passed without them finding a new place to live, and Burns and her boyfriend are now staying temporarily with a relative. Burns said they were never late with rent during the four years in the previous home and they have good references.

Thanks to her boyfriend’s job as a mobile mechanic, Burns said, they can afford up to $1,300 monthly rent and have the money for cleaning and pet deposits and other upfront costs.

But the search seems almost hopeless with the “no pets” policy and the number of people applying for available homes. Burns was told that about 100 people applied for a rental house that recently caught her eye.

“There is not enough affordable housing,” said Burns, a longtime Modesto resident. “I have never gone through this in my entire life. I am not giving (Koda) up, but I don’t want to live in my car either.”

Burns pays for renter insurance and recently added her dog to the coverage, which would pay for damage that will never happen, she assured. Her dog’s name means “friend and companion” in the Sioux language, which matches the animal’s gentle disposition.

If worse comes to worst, her daughter living in Elk Grove has agreed to take care of Koda.

“Pets are wonderful,” Burns said. “Nothing loves you like a dog. It is like the most pure love on the planet. He just brings a lot to my life.”

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Ken Carlson covers county government and health care for The Modesto Bee. His coverage of public health, medicine, consumer health issues and the business of health care has appeared in The Bee for 15 years.