QCould you please tell me what the justification is for pet rent? I can understand a pet deposit, even a nonrefundable one, although, I think that could be unfair if you clean up. Pet rent suggests that the management has to go out of its way to accommodate pets, when actually the renter is just utilizing the space that he or she already pays for. I assume it is just another way to make money off a renter, but is it even legal? I know that I have the right not to move to places like that, but it is getting harder to find an apartment that allows pets at all. -- Falls Church

AMany pet owners are suspicious of pet rent, especially when they are sure their pets are not going to cause excessive damage to a unit. If your dog doesn't eat the monthly rent check or hold wild parties at all hours of the night, it may seem like a landlord's backhanded way of charging you more money. But landlords aren't just collecting these fees for what goes on in your own apartment, and rambunctious pets have been known to do more than just "utilize" the rental space. The justification to charge pet deposits and pet rent really comes from the extra wear and tear an animal inevitably causes. Landlords are not obligated to accept non-human beings in their buildings, except for service animals, and those that do usually cite ways in which pets damage properties to back up their fees.

As long as they apply pet rent on a nondiscriminatory basis, landlords can legally charge pet rent. Heather Campbell, spokeswoman for Colorado-based apartment investment and management company Archstone-Smith, said her employer charges a nonrefundable pet fee and pet rent every month because of the "additional maintenance it takes for the property. It takes far more management from our perspective to actually allow pets," she said. "You can imagine the wear and tear pets cause the hallways. Pet owners aren't always the most responsible. [Because of pets] our maintenance people are going out and fixing landscaping and cleaning up after pets and things like that," she said.

Any damage pets cause to the units is independent of pet fees. If your pet somehow damages your unit, Campbell said, you'll have to pay for that above and beyond pet rent and pet fees.

"It truly is for the extra maintenance it takes to allow pets in the building, and so people pay for the privilege of having their pets live with them," Campbell said.

Pets may inadvertently require more cleanup around common areas of an apartment community, or they could scratch up floors or otherwise stamp their figurative paw prints on a unit. In the Washington metropolitan area, common pet deposits are $100 to $300, and pet rent is generally from $10 to $25. Landlords often charge more for big dogs.

It's possible to shop around to find the best, least expensive pet-friendly buildings, even if large companies that allow pets probably have their pet policies set in stone. Smaller or private owners may be amenable to negotiation on the pet issue. Using a pet-screening checklist, offering refundable pet deposits or writing up a pet agreement that makes you, the tenant, liable for anything your pet may do, would help offset such a cost and, by exempting them of monthly fees, would reward pet owners for keeping their animals under control.

I live in a gated community where 20 cars were broken into recently. The cops were surprised that the complex didn't have cameras or a roving guard patrolling the area. After residents told management personnel how worried we were that this could happen again, they apologized but refused to upgrade security. They sent a letter telling the residents to keep a watchful eye. Though that might help during the day, I can't imagine residents out at 3 a.m., when the robbers are more likely to strike. I am worried that if nothing changes, the same thing will happen again. Is there any action that can be taken against the management, which advertised our place as a "gated and secure" complex even though we now know it isn't? -- Alexandria

To feel more secure in your neighborhood as you sort out your problems with management, rely on your local police force. Since being worried about another incident of vandalism is not a good use of your energy, you should also ask management to set up a meeting with local police officers, who can address the community on how to start a neighborhood watch and how to remain vigilant about keeping criminals away. If your landlord is unresponsive and does not set up such a meeting, do so yourself. Police are well-versed in giving safety tips to community members, and such a gathering will bring together all concerned residents (who may not know one another) and encourage an exchange that could lead to other possible solutions to the problems associated with living in a gated but insecure complex.

Also, local police members who meet groups of people who were recent victims of vandalism or other crimes in and around multifamily housing complexes are more likely to drive by and check up on things when they're in the neighborhood.

Banding together with neighbors is not only helpful in negotiating with a management company, but also it will help you familiarize yourself with the faces of people who belong in your community so that if you see something or someone seemingly suspicious, you can report it with more confidence. Once together, you and your fellow tenants could also easily create a written petition asking your management company to hire a night watch person or to make sure the gates around the building are more secure than they are now.

Another option you and your fellow tenants could pursue is to consult a lawyer about what constitutes false advertising.

It goes without saying that next time you look for an apartment, make sure you have evidence of the security systems and devices that are advertised.

I did all the grunt work of finding and securing an apartment for my friend and me, and my friend ended up being a very inconsiderate roommate. I also furnished the entire apartment. Our lease is up soon, and I would like to stay and bring in a different roommate, but I'm concerned she might want to do the same thing. What's the best course of action that I can take to get her out of the apartment? I spoke with the management company already, and they require a letter from my roommate saying she doesn't want to re-sign the lease, but I'm scared she won't do that for me. -- New York

Unfortunately, finding and furnishing an apartment do not give you dibs on it. You both signed the lease, so you have equal rights to staying in the apartment. Your management company's answer, though not what you wanted to hear, is your first course of action. Broach the subject delicately with your roommate and former friend, without too much animosity. Tell her that you'd like to stay in the apartment without her once the lease term ends, and ask if she is willing to give you a letter of permission. If not, you can gauge how bad your roommate situation is by her desire to get rid of you, and you can do a few things. You can stay and attempt to wait her out, likely to your own emotional and psychological detriment. Or you can ask your management company about moving to a different apartment in the same building with a new roommate. That way, you wouldn't have too far to move all of your things and would not have to depend on your current roommate's cooperation to attain freedom from her.

Do you have questions, comments or ideas about apartment life? Contact Sara Gebhardt via e-mail at aptlife@gmail.com or by mail, c/o Real Estate Editor, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071