Naomi Kuster joined an increasing number of Twin Cities renters to pay fees to keep pets close. Kuster paid a $750 fee to her apartment management company for her two dogs to live with her near Father Hennepin Bluff Park in Minneapolis.
The cost of keeping a pet in an apartment is often enough of a bite that pet owners have to think about what their apartment costs per square foot and per paw.
“We've looked at some places where online it says $1,000 per dog deposit, which is insane,” she said.
Kuster doesn't have to pay a monthly pet rent. But she won’t get her upfront payment back.
“Straight up, [they’re] saying it's nonrefundable, I don't like it, but we got to do what we got to do. We'd live in a cardboard box before we got rid of them,” she said about her greyhound, Opie, and dachshund mix, Blue.
There are nearly 2,000 apartment complexes in the Twin Cities that state they allow pets, according to Apartments.com.
Erin Heikkinen, who lives near Father Hennepin Bluff Park, not only paid upfront but pays by the month, too.
“I just moved in and I have a $300 deposit, plus $60 a month fee to have my dog,” she said.
Jennifer Chang, brand and consumer marketing director for Apartments.com, said it's definitely more common for landlords to welcome pets than they did seven to 10 years ago. Many apartment buildings offer pet washing stations, gated relief areas, dog runs and other amenities.
“We're just getting more renters with pets. It's just accepted widely,” she said.
In the Twin Cities, the average pet deposit is $185 per animal, with an average monthly pet rent of $25. It takes more than money to get a pet into some apartments, though.
“They have her DNA,” said Calvin Hoffman about his dog, Missy. If Hoffman fails to pick up after Missy responds to nature's call, the two of them could be in trouble.
“What I'm told anyway is there is a strictly-enforced PooPrints program,” he said. “If you leave your dog's waste anywhere around the apartment grounds, they'll take a DNA swab and fine you."
That possibility can certainly make dog owners more conscientious.
“Guess what happens? Most people pick up because they don't want to pay the fine,” said Nick Boosalis, area manager for PooPrints, which matches poop with dogs' and their owners.
That fine could be $200 to $400. Nearly 300 Twin Cities apartment complexes and homeowner associations require residents to provide dog DNA samples to PooPrints. All that requires is a quick swab inside a dog's cheek.
Some landlords want a meet-and-greet with prospective resident pets to see how they behave. And there are landlords who consider pets’ backgrounds, just like rental applicants.
John Bradford is founder and CEO of North Carolina-based Pet Screening, which collects information from owners, among other means, to assemble dossiers on dogs.
“We collect data on the specific pet, everything from the breed, the sex, the size, photographs, vaccination records, microchip details, training information, behavioral history — such as any biting history,” he said. “We analyze it and then issue a Fido score.”
Pet Screening also validates renter requests to keep canines that might not be allowed otherwise or cost extra. Federal law requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for disabled people who have an animal that assists them or provides emotional support that alleviates the effects of a disability.
Facebook and Instagram accounts are not yet part of Pet Screening's reports. But Bradford said social media links could be added down the road.
Bradford said his firm's reports can help pit bulls and other dogs with image issues get a fair shake.
“A lot of landlords and property managers historically don't allow certain breeds,” he said. “But when they start using our product and they use the Fido score, every pet is kind of getting a shot.”
Management companies with a total of more than one million rental units use Pet Screening, Bradford said. Pet owners pay $20 per pet per year to register their dogs. There's no fee for those with service animals.
“I love animals. And my kitty is like an emotional companion,” said Andrew Phillips, who lives with his cat, Perris, in the Edgerton Hi-Rise Apartments St. Paul's East Side. “I cannot even imagine living without a pet.”
Phillips' building is operated by the St. Paul Public Housing Authority. Tenants with pets pay a one-time $100 pet deposit but no monthly pet rent. Permitted pets include dogs and cats under 25 pounds, small caged birds or mammals, turtles and aquarium fish.
Property owners say accepting pets makes sense from a business perspective. R7 Lofts, an 48-unit apartment building opening in downtown St. Paul, has signs in its windows that feature a cute dog and cat and proclaim: "Pets Welcome."
“It's something the market wants,” William Weller, the property manager at R7 Lofts, said, adding dog and cat lovers are “going to find a space where they can bring them.”
R7 Lofts wants a $300 deposit for each pet, along with $30 a month rent for cats and $50 for dogs. Dogs must provide DNA samples.
Steve Minn is vice president of Lupe Development Partners, which allows pets in most of its apartments. He said being pet-friendly inspires tenant loyalty and reduces renter turnover.
“With the right deposit and the right review of who the pet is, you know, we interview the pets, it's an enhancement for both the landlord and the tenant,” he said.