Surcharge could make S.F. housing pet-friendly 

Try searching for an apartment that allows pets in San Francisco and in all likelihood you will strike out time and again. With only a small percentage of apartments allowing cats and dogs, prospective renters sometimes wind up parting ways with their animal companions and tenants are less able to adopt pets from shelters.

To transform The City’s rental market into a pet-friendly market, The City’s Animal Control and Welfare Commission is urging the Board of Supervisors to adopt legislation allowing landlords to charge 5 percent of a tenant’s rent per pet as an incentive for landlords to roll out the welcoming mat for animals.

It was the efforts of dog owner Rex Reginald, who recently relocated to The City from Los Angeles, which prompted the commission to act.

In a city with an estimated 120,000 dogs, Reginald said that he too often hears how hard it is for animal owners to find an apartment. "No one can find a place for their pets unless they rent dumpy stuff," Reginald said.

Reginald’s original proposal about six months ago was to give a property-tax break for owners of rental apartments, but that was taken off the table. Commission Chair Richard Schulke said that since property taxes are controlled by state law it would require state legislators to put something on the ballot to allow a property tax break. "The chances of that happening were slim to none, so that was why that was dead in the water," Schulke said.

So instead of a property tax break for owners, the commission decided renters themselves should foot the bill if they want to have pets. Landlords are wary of pets for the damage they may cause in a building or the disruption.

Schulke, who supported the recommendation, acknowledged that with San Francisco’s already high rental rates and cost of living, 5 percent "is a little too high."

Reginald, however, is a big supporter of the so-called rent surcharge and is meeting with members of the Board of Supervisors to try and drum up support for it.

The proposal has pitted landlord advocates against tenant advocacy groups, making the proposal a political firestorm.

Janan New, executive director of the influential San Francisco Apartments Association, praised the idea and said it would result in more pet-friendly rentals. "It’s an incentive and it’s always good to give people an incentive to offer an extra service, rather than punishment, which is what owners usually receive from City Hall," New said.

"We don’t like it because it’s not good for tenants and it’s not good for pets either," said Ted Gullickson, executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union. Gullickson said it would not make it affordable for low-income renters to have a pet. He also said it would create problems among those who are currently allowed to have pets without an agreement in writing. Landlords would end up forcing these tenants to start paying up, according to Gullickson. He previously suggested to the commission that requiring landlords to allow pets would better solve the problem.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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