What? Pet Fees Are No Longer Legal In Oregon?

It may come as a surprise to some landlords, renters and even attorneys in Oregon that pet fees have not been permitted by Oregon statutes for the past five or six years. But confusion about the law remains, most likely because Oregon Revised Statutes 90.302 does not actually declare that pet fees are prohibited; rather, the list of “Fees allowed for certain landlord expenses” no longer includes non-refundable pet fees.

Pet deposits are still OK, says Jim Straub of Acorn Property Management, LLC of Eugene and Portland, and there’s “no statutory limit on those deposits,” but the deposits need to be refunded if there’s no damage. And landlords are not supposed to charge against deposits for normal wear-and-tear during tenancy, he says.

Landlords can legally charge higher rent to tenants who have pets, and Straub says the typical rent hike is $10 to $20 a month. In the past, landlords have often charged $200 to $300 non-refundable pet fees, and many landlords still use rental contracts with language that pre-dates the legislative changes. Rental agreements can still go into great detail about acceptable pet sizes, ages, numbers, breeds and behavior (such as noise and aggression), and set penalties for unauthorized pets. (Sneak in that cute kitten and it might cost you.)

The Oregon rules are complex, of course, and address many landlord-tenant issues surrounding fees. For example, landlords can charge “non-compliance fees of up to $50 for a tenant’s failure to clean up pet waste from premises,” according to the Bluestone & Hockley Real Estate Services blog.

And service animals that assist renters with disabilities are exempt from pet policies, according to federal housing regulations: “Examples include guide dogs for persons with vision impairments, hearing dogs for persons with hearing impairments and emotional assistance animals for persons with chronic mental illness.”

Who determines whether an animal qualifies? Landlords have some discretion, but they could require a letter from an appropriate professional, such as a therapist or physician, according to HUD rules.

Sometimes lawyers get involved, and Straub says he’s heard of “therapeutic horses and even an alligator” getting approved as a “prescriptive aid animal” needed by renters for their “equal enjoyment” of their home under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

EW has not tracked down that therapeutic alligator for the mentally ill, but we did ask some advice: What should a landlord or tenant do now if a non-refundable pet fee has already been charged?

“If the fees were collected prior to Jan. 1, 2010, then they are perfectly legal,” says Straub. “Fees are ‘spent’ the minute you received them.” But he goes on to say, “If there have been any fees collected after this date, I would inform the tenants that this amount has been converted to a deposit, and will be accounted for when they vacate.”

Local property management companies Chinook Properties and the Jennings Group did not respond to requests for comments about their pet policies by press time. A number of local attorneys deal with landlord-tenant issues surrounding pets, and it’s a good idea for landlords to check to see if their insurance policies deal with pet issues, including breed-specific dog bans.