QThe rationale that apartment managers gave for pet rent in your last column concentrated on damage to common areas by pets and their irresponsible owners. I won't argue that this damage happens or that management companies have to find some way to recoup the costs. However, apartment complexes that charge pet rent to dog owners also charge these fees to cat owners. Apartment-dwelling cats are exclusively indoor creatures. I can assure you that my cat has never even seen the hallway outside my unit, never mind made a mess of the landscaping!
If I am going to pay out of pocket for any damage my cat causes in my unit and my cat does not ever enter the common areas of the apartment complex, why exactly am I paying pet rent? Where could this money possibly be going, if not for the common areas and not for possible repairs in my unit?
Keep in mind that, like most pet owners, I put down an extra deposit too. Is it because the fee has to be applied without discrimination, and a pet is a pet? I hesitate to believe that; pet rent is not charged to people with gerbils or tropical fish. -- Silver Spring
AYou are not the only cat owner who weighed in after reading the explanation in this column two weeks ago from Heather Campbell, a spokeswoman for Colorado-based apartment company Archstone-Smith. Campbell said that her employer charges a nonrefundable pet fee and pet rent every month because of extra wear and tear to common apartment building areas. She also stated that any damage that pets cause to the units is independent of pet fees.
Not surprisingly, those with declawed indoor cats complained about paying $25 or more per month for their animals when their neighbors pay the same amount for 85-pound dogs, who were the culprits in this extra common-area wear and tear.
Perhaps these cat owners are biased, but they say it would not be discriminatory to charge differently for cats and dogs, especially because there are deposits based on pet size at some apartment complexes.
Many readers view pet rent as a money generator for landlords, especially when it is charged for cats. They contend that caring owners do not allow their cats to roam outside because of dangers they would face from cars and dogs. They also contend that in the event that cats wander off on their own, they still do not wreak havoc. They do not bark loudly day and night, and declawed cats don't wear down the carpet any more than toddlers do.
Michele Giarrusso's complaints about pet rent are a bit stronger than others. The Fairfax dog trainer said, "If landlords really cared about lessening maintenance and damage, they would seek to better the lives of pets and owners who seek to rent their properties rather than allowing disreputable pets and/or people to rent from them and charging them a fee."
She said, "Pet rent is a scam, at best. . . . It should be outlawed."
Cat owners who are against monthly pet fees seem to have a point. But apartment management companies that charge pet rent argue otherwise.
Campbell clarified her stance on her company's reasoning about charging pet rent for dogs and cats.
"It's been our experience that house cats can cause as much damage in apartments as dogs do in the common areas," she said.
"Let's say we find cat urine in the carpeting when someone is moving out. While a resident would pay to replace any carpet that was damaged, we often need to go in and replace subflooring because that's how far cat urine can infiltrate the physical structure of the apartment. There are similar repairs to drywall that gets chewed or clawed by cats. So, the pet rent helps us cover any costs we incur to bring an apartment to a pet-free standard," Campbell said.
Most apartment management companies have similar justifications for charging cat owners. Centreville-based KSI Management Corp., which runs more than 30 pet-friendly buildings in the Washington area, charges nonrefundable pet fees and pet rent because, said spokeswoman Karen Kossow, "you know there are going to be costs when they move out. A lot of people don't realize cats do a lot more damage than dogs."
"Even though there is a possibility dogs do more damage to common areas, cats do more damage in apartments," she said. "Cats do scoot out sometimes. . . . When cats spray, the carpet's history, as is sometimes paint on the walls. In the apartment itself, you can tell a cat's been there. They are greater expense to get rid of smell, and a lot of people are allergic to cats," so it takes more to prepare the apartment for the next resident.
Like Archstone-Smith, KSI will also charge for damage that exceeds the nonrefundable fee. The pet rent, then, goes to costs associated with maintaining the property.
"It's to cover anything, wherever your possibilities lie," Kossow said. "We understand that pet owners who take care of their cats are affected by those who do not. Unfortunately, these things affect the good pet owners just as they do the bad. In an industry where everybody has to be treated consistently, you have to do what you have to do."
I live in a house-turned-apartment building with a shared driveway. We residents have access to one another's car keys and move others' cars when they are blocking our cars. Recently, I found one neighbor asleep in his car at 3 a.m., with his foot on the gas pedal and the engine revving. I banged on the car window for several minutes. Finally, he woke up and seemed delirious and apologetic, although after I woke him up, he got back in his car and went to sleep. In general, his car is always blocking ours, and it's usually unreliable. After this episode, I was worried his car would stall or explode in the morning.
Anyway, this guy's behavior has been strange, and I'm not sure it matters, but I wonder if we should attempt to sit down with him. (There is a language barrier, and he doesn't seem to recognize us even though we have introduced ourselves several times.) Or should we call our landlord, who is incredibly nice, incredibly lazy, and has been unresponsive to our past attempts to get help with the third-floor guy? -- Arlington
First, realize that your neighbor may have been acting strangely that night because of carbon monoxide poisoning. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, moderate levels of carbon monoxide poisoning can cause mental confusion, nausea, faintness or dizziness.
So, now that the episode is over, you can try to talk to him again if you want to understand him better. Mention the incident and ask him if he is doing okay. If he doesn't understand English, you can resort to body language and sign language and probably manage to have a conversation. This may require some patience, and may not result in your neighbor recognizing you or changing his behavior. But it may help you figure out if there is more to the story, such as drug use, that caused the driveway scene.
If similar events continue, tell your landlord, on the premise that you worry that your neighbor will end up in a similar situation in your car or somehow endanger himself or someone else again. Your landlord may see no reason to intervene on the grounds of bizarre behavior, but he might be able to help you work out a different system of parking your cars.
Do you have questions, comments or ideas about apartment life? Contact Sara Gebhardt via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail, c/o Real Estate Editor, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.