Staff and volunteers at KC Pet Project understand that every day can bring in new business. On Monday, it was a litter of eight puppies, brought to the shelter by deputies from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department after their owner was evicted from an apartment.
Staffers at the nonprofit, which contracts with the Kansas City government to provide pet shelter and animal control operations, were not surprised. Hundreds of pet owners every year are forced to surrender their animals for housing-related reasons such as evictions, rent increases and landlord-imposed restrictions.
KC Pet Project has accepted 163 animals for housing reasons so far in 2023. And, as long as affordable housing remains a challenge for many, no one expects the numbers to dip.
“Usually, we are the last resort,” said Tori Fugate, the chief communications officer for KC Pet Project. “It’s such a hard thing to see somebody that’s already going through a crisis in their life … trying to find another place to live or going through an eviction, and they’re having to give up their best friend.”
Evictions and rent increases have always put humans and pets in jeopardy. What seems to be on the rise is a practice by landlords to single out pet owners by imposing new fees for their pets, increasing pet rent or imposing restrictions on breeds of dogs or animals over a certain weight. For people already struggling, the financial cost of pet ownership can quickly become unsustainable. This leaves the owner with a difficult choice: to give up their pet or give up their housing.
“What is happening with people in our communities is also happening with pets,” Fugate said. “We see … people who are in need of affordable housing, who cannot find a place to live that will allow their pet or simply can’t find a place to live at all. We hear from people every day who are choosing to live in vehicles until they find a place to live because they don’t want to give up their pet.”
Pet fees and breed restrictions among Kansas City landlords
Many of Kansas City’s biggest landlords place restrictions on pets in apartments, if they allow them at all.
Mac Properties typically charges a nonrefundable pet fee of $200 for its Kansas City tenants, with an additional pet rent of $15 per month per animal. They prohibit a list of so-called “aggressive breeds,” including pit bulls, German shepherds, Great Danes and chows.
Price Brothers, which owned over 8 million square feet of apartments in 2022 as one of Kansas City’s biggest residential landlords, charges a nonrefundable pet fee of $300, in addition to a $300 pet deposit. They also prohibit “aggressive breeds.”
Some property managers, including North Terrace Properties, include a provision in leases that gives the landlord the power to immediately remove a tenant’s pet from their property for any reason.
These restrictions are having an increasing impact on pet families in Kansas City, Fugate said.
For one, breed restrictions prevent a significant number of pets from being adopted out of the KC Pet Project. Pit bulls, an often-banned breed, make up 20% to 25% of the shelter’s intake.
Fugate said KC Pet Project is seeing people who have owned a pet for years surrendering the animal for housing-related reasons.
“That can be anything that includes evictions, or they can’t find a place to live that will take their pet,” she said. “We hear from people all the time who are having to move in with somebody else, and they already have a pet, and they can’t have more than one. Or they’ve moved into a place that no longer allows the pet that they own.”
In some cases, Fugate has seen animals surrendered because the landlord didn’t want dog feces in the yard, or even for no reason other than because the landlord said so.
March set a new record for pet intake at KC Pet Project
Animal intake overall has been increasing at KC Pet Project. Nearly 800 dogs were brought into the shelter in March — a record intake.
The reasons, Fugate said, are economic. More pet owners are struggling to afford veterinary care, food and other necessities while keeping a roof over their own heads.
Since 2019, the number of housing-related pet surrenders has nearly doubled. In February 2023, 136 pets were surrendered to KC Pet Project for housing-related reasons, making it the top reason for surrender.
Keep ‘Em Together program seeks to prevent unnecessary surrenders to KC Pet Project
In response to an increase in need through the pandemic, KC Pet Project launched its Keep ‘Em Together program, which provides assistance to pet families in order to prevent unnecessary surrenders.
“The easiest place for a pet to be is at home with their family,” said Amanda Gatten, KC Pet Project’s director of community programs. “There are so many people, not even in Kansas City, but across our country, that would say their pet gives them hope to continue to persevere and move forward and stay committed to whatever it is to overcome their challenge.”
Applicants to the Keep ‘Em Together program can receive supplies such as leashes, kennels or doghouses, or direct financial assistance.
Since 2020, the program has subsidized over $250,000 in supportive services. It has provided about 7,000 days of temporary care for 124 pets, not including assistance in 2023. The program has received 85 applications for support since the beginning of this year.
For pet owners experiencing a crisis or transition, the Home Away From Home program offers temporary pet foster care.
One client sought assistance when her landlord changed a pet policy and threatened her with eviction. Her dog, named King, was temporarily cared for by a foster family until pet and owner could be reunited.
For anyone struggling to care for their pet, Gatten wants them to know that they’re not alone.
“They’re not a bad pet owner, and they’re not a bad person,” she said. “We understand that these challenges are much bigger than they are. These challenges are much bigger than we are, as well.”
She said lots of organizations want to help, and she encourages anyone struggling to apply for assistance. She also pointed to this website, which provides directions for low-cost resources.
Some states are limiting landlord pet restrictions
Some states, including California, Montana and Hawaii, have prohibited nonrefundable pet fees. Other states, including Illinois, have prohibited breed and size restrictions in housing that has received money from the state’s housing trust fund.
A group in Independence, Missouri, is gathering signatures on a petition to eliminate the city’s ban on pit bulls.
Katie Barnett, an animal law attorney based in Lawrence, Kansas, said an ordinance being considered by that city’s government would prohibit certain pet restrictions in housing that has received public assistance in the form of a tax incentive.
Barnett said people who qualify under the Americans With Disabilities Act have an absolute right to a service animal, regardless of where they live.
Emotional support animals or “assistance animals” are also protected in some housing that falls under the specifications of the Fair Housing Act, she said. Tenants can ask their landlords for an exemption if pets are prohibited or request a waiver of pet-related fees.
No landlord can actually force a tenant to surrender a pet, Barnett added.
“They can never force you to surrender a pet,” she said. “They can tell you, ‘We are going to evict you because you’re in violation of the lease,’ but they can’t say, ‘You have to give up this pet.’”
Tenants in Kansas City are entitled to legal counsel in eviction lawsuits, and they must be given three days of notice before an eviction suit can be filed.
If you’re facing eviction and seeking representation, contact United Way of Greater Kansas City to enroll in the right-to-counsel program: 816-474-5112