Legislators ponder bill that would let many Maine renters keep pets

Lawmakers are weighing whether to enact a law that would require public housing agencies in Maine to allow tenants to have one or more common household pets.

“We feel this bill will help to ease a significant burden many pet owners are currently facing,” said Katie Lisnik, executive director the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston.

“By increasing the number of rental units that are truly pet-welcoming, we can keep pets in the families where they are loved and cherished, as well as increasing the pool of families able to consider adopting a homeless animal in need,” Lisnik said.

A public hearing on the proposal this week delivered a wide range of opinions for the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee to consider. The proposal would impact many rental units that receive public funds.

Bruce Merrill of Auburn told the panel the bill “takes away even more rights from property owners” who are “responsible for keeping up with their properties and making sure the tenants live in harmony.”

“There are many reasons certain buildings should not have certain pets,” Merrill said. “Also many reasons certain tenants should not have pets.”

Merrill warned the measure “is a disaster in the making” and would contribute to the collapse of low-income housing availability.

But Robert Fisk Jr., founder and president of Maine Friends of Animals, said the law “should do all we can” to keep people and their pets together.

“Housing, moving and landlord issues are amongst the most commonly cited reasons for pet surrenders,” he said. “This bill helps mitigate it in low-income public housing where tenants love their pets like everyone else does.”

Lisnik said housing restrictions were directly behind about one in five of the animals surrendered to her shelter in the past year and are likely an underlying issue in other cases.

“For example, an animal may be surrendered because of ‘too many pets’ when an owner had to move and couldn’t find housing that would allow their large dog, or three cats,” she said.

“Mainers are a pet-loving people and firmly believe that pets are part of the family,” she said, pointing out that about half of Maine households have at least one cat. Nationally, she said, 75% of renters own pets.

“We feel this bill will help to ease a significant burden many pet owners are currently facing,” she said. “By increasing the number of rental units that are truly pet-welcoming, we can keep pets in the families where they are loved.”

Among those who see problems with the proposed law is Amanda Gilliam, director of property management with Avesta Housing, the largest nonprofit affordable housing provider in northern New England.

Gilliam said the measure would “create additional safety hazards for residents” and “increase operating costs for landlords at a time when there is an extreme shortage of safe, quality, affordable housing across the state of Maine.”

“Increasing costs makes viability a challenge for new and existing affordable housing projects,” she said. “There is a critical need for more affordable housing, and increasing operating costs is not the way to obtain it.”

Jon Ogletree of Belfast, who said he’s managed affordable housing complexes for more than a decade, told legislators that if the bill becomes law “I will go into another line of work.”

He said growing regulation is making it so difficult to manage affordable housing complexes that the entire system will implode if it keeps up.

Cullen Ryan, executive director of Community Housing of Maine, said he appreciates the bill allows landlords to impose pet deposit fees and reasonable rules for pets, but warned lawmakers that approving it will cause a broad array of problems and “have dire, unintended consequences.”

Robin Wells, a real estate attorney in Portland, told the panel it ought to approve the bill.

Wells said it “will further strengthen Maine’s commitment to affordable housing and companion animals, ensuring that all Mainers, including those who have made pets a part of their families, will be able to find appropriate housing for their entire family.”

Source: Sun Journal

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