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Yes, 'Pet Rent' Is Still Legal In Seattle

"sad pug" by Matt Wiebe is licensed under CC by 2.0

If you have a dog or a cat in your Seattle apartment, you know monthly pet rent can cost $25, $35, or even $50 a month. 

When a December bill by the Seattle City Council limited the fees landlords can charge, some wondered whether those pet rent charges were still legal.

The legislation says apart from a refundable deposit, "the landlord may not charge the tenant any fee for keeping a pet." 

Questions poured into City Hall from landlords and tenants alike, said Geoff Tallent, the rental program manager for the city's Department of Construction and Inspections. 

"The first few weeks, there was quite a bit of confusion," about what the law meant for pet rent, he said.

City staff and attorneys took a closer look, he said. Their verdict: Pet rent doesn't count as a fee under the law. 

Thus, it's still legal.  

"The key there is the word 'fee,'" Tallent said. "This is about a fee, an up-front fee for keeping a pet, as opposed to ongoing rent." 

The law does make it illegal for landlords to charge any up-front, non-refundable fee for moving a pet into an apartment.

Those fees are still common at buildings in Tacoma and Bellevue, and can run as high as $700. 

Seattle's law also caps the amount of money landlords can hold for a refundable pet damage deposit. The limit is 25 percent of the first month's rent. 

Under the law, tenants are allowed spread security deposits and move-in fees over a payment plan.

So far, no landlords have been cited for violating the pet provisions of the law, Tallent said.

City staff have had conversations with landlords and tenants to clarify parts of the law and resolve complaints, he added.

The law went into effect in January, though a landlord lobbying group filed a lawsuit in May that seeks to overturn the regulations. 

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.