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Dog-gone leases

It was a crisp 30-something degrees the morning of Jan. 2, but that couldn’t keep Tyler Henry and Zoey away from the Bear Creek dog park.

Henry is a veteran who has struggled with the psychological side effects from his military service and whose wounds include a traumatic brain injury. Henry says that Zoey, a male Australian shepherd that he expected would be a miniature version of his breed — he isn’t — helps get him out of the house.

“My favorite position is my head on the pillow,” Henry says.

Having Zoey to care for has “added a lot to my life,” he says.

Henry says he lived in his Medford apartment for three years before getting Zoey. Working as a health care professional at the Veterans Affairs clinics in White City, where the pup was authorized as a psychological support animal, Henry was able to bring Zoey into his home with a waived pet deposit to boot.

“I include him in my plans now,” Henry says as Zoey, sticky with mud from the park, noses eagerly for his ratty tennis ball. Henry doesn’t plan to be moving anytime soon, convenient as their setup is.

In Jackson County, recorded in the 2017 American Community Survey as having a 3.1 percent rental vacancy rate, it’s far from ideal to have to narrow your options to find a rental. As the housing crunch persists, pet owners and landlords are navigating how best to coexist with animal companions.

Landlords, faced with the prospect of costly repairs after housing man’s best friends, often either avoid renting to pet owners or charge them expensive deposits. For renters, that can mean a tough choice: housing or keeping their beloved companions.

The landlord’s burden

Bob Rood steps over a grimy photograph as he crosses the porch of a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house on McAndrews Road. His company, Quality Property Management, recently evicted the family who lived here for four years.

Rood pauses in the space between the living room and kitchen.

“The smell used to be so much more powerful in here,” he says.

It was the family members’ pets that led to their eviction. They had chickens as well as pigs, Rood says, which violates city code. After the tenants didn’t comply with code enforcement, Rood says, they were evicted.

The pets and livestock are gone, but the evidence of their presence remains. Feces are left in a back room, and the back door is covered in scratches and grime.

“I used to think, ‘oh, what a mean landlord,’” Rood says. “Then I became one.”

It will cost about $12,000 to restore the residence, which is what Rood calls a “starter home” — not on the higher end of the rental market.

Rood calls this house a case of “the worst of the worst,” but he also says that only one experience with extensive pet-related damage can make owners grow gun-shy about allowing pets without steep charges up front.

“All my competitors ... we are all in agreement about this,” he says.

He says that while some landlords own enough properties to cushion restoration costs, many others own few or even one rental. Expensive repairs can set those people back.

“The real key to this business is to have the communication lines open where people will talk to you if they have a problem,” says Craig Horton, president of Medford Better Homes Association Inc. “With smaller owners, I think sometimes the communication line is not very good.”

Horton was president of the Southern Oregon Rental Owners Association for over 20 years and has owned his property management company since 1984. He says face-to-face meetings can make the difference in a successful tenant-landlord relationship, especially when pets are involved.

“The landlord sees it as a business, but the tenant sees her animal as a personal relationship,” he says.

Landlords don’t always have a choice when it comes to allowing pets. As in Henry’s case, his approval from a VA medical professional allowed him to move Zoey into his apartment, though he says he wouldn’t have brought him there if his landlord had been against it.

The Americans With Disabilities Act mandates reasonable accommodation in public places and housing for service animals. The Fair Housing Act extends that protection in homes to emotional support animals.

If people apply with a service animal protected by ADA, Rood says, Quality Property Management is legally required to treat the application as if it doesn’t include any animal at all — that means no standard pet deposit of at least $250 or the $25 increase in pet rent.

Problems often arise, he says, when tenants bring in emotional support animals midway through a lease.

“My favorite is, ‘My spiritual counselor says I need one,’” says Rood of the reasons why people request approval to house an emotional support animal. “You’d be stunned at the imagination of people.

“That just messes it up for the people who really need it.”

Pets and owners sometimes strapped

The coldest months with the longest nights in Jackson County are also the months when the Community Alliance of Tenants receives the most calls about no-cause evictions and rent increases through its renters’ rights hotline, says statewide organizer Jesse Sharpe.

Sharpe says that calls from people on the verge of losing housing who also have pets are “a sign that we’re dealing with a really difficult situation.”

“It’s going to be a lot harder to find that person a home,” he says.

The organization, which began in Portland but has been working statewide since 2014, informs tenants about their legal rights and helps them look for other housing. It doesn’t advise them on their decisions, Sharpe says.

Multiple renters at the Mariposa Apartments, where the new owner increased rent by 40 percent after assuming ownership in fall 2017, were pet owners.

The Community Alliance of Tenants and others in the county rallied to help tenants keep both their pets and their housing, whether the obstacle was paying a deposit or registering their animals as emotional support animals.

It’s not uncommon for the hotline operators to hear from a person caught deciding between keeping a pet or housing, whether because of rent increases, a new deposit or threat of eviction, Sharpe says.

“It’s a really frustrating, sad situation,” he says.

Both SoHumane and the Jackson County Animal Shelter say they haven’t seen high rates of owner surrenders or any notable increases in recent years, however.

In 2018, Jackson County Animal Services took in 1,276 strays and 324 relinquished dogs, says manager Barbara Talbert.

In the same time period, the department took in 1,310 stray cats and 231 surrenders.

Talbert says Animal Services marks “moving” as a reason for intake, but doesn’t track the specifics of what’s behind the move in its data.

“We don’t usually get too much into it,” she says.

A number of pet-rehoming Facebook groups that connect strapped owners with those seeking pets may contribute to lower numbers of surrenders.

Behind every one of those data points and transactions, however, are relationships.

Nelson Spry, a former renter in Rogue River, and his dog King have their own. A Rottweiler, King is accepted at even fewer properties.

“I chose to keep my dog as part of the family,” Spry says. He moved into his brother’s home for a few weeks before moving into a trailer he bought in Rogue River so that he could keep King.

Not everyone has such options, however, when struggling to find pet-friendly housing.

Sharpe says that tenants knowing their rights helps them confront landlords who refuse to accept emotional support animals or who charge deposits on service animals.

“It seems as though that is something that is starting to be addressed as tenants are becoming more familiar,” he says.

“Everybody loves their pets, and everybody wants to keep their pet,” says Rood, “and if people are straightforward and honest with us, we try to accommodate them.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

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