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Recently I inquired to my landlord about getting some Guinea Pigs. He wanted to charge me $25/month for the guinea pigs; when further pressed about why I needed to pay a charge (Guinea Pigs generally stay in their cage and wouldn't cause much damage) I was told they were legally required to charge for any pets, because they charge for dogs and that if they didn't it would be considered discrimination. This makes absolutely no sense to me. I don't see how it would possibly be considered discrimination. I do understand that regardless he can charge whatever he wants for pets. I'm just wondering if this is really a valid reason.

As for what the lease says about pets, under tenant obligations:

Not to keep in or about any pets unless specifically authorized as a special condition into this Rental Agreement.

So I would need to sign an updated lease in order for this to happen, which makes sense.

I did do a bit of googling and could not find anything related to pets or discrimination beyond this:

In Wisconsin, Wis. Stat. § 106.50(2r)(bm) includes specific rules about animals assisting persons with vision, hearing or mobility disabilities. It is illegal for an owner or property manager to refuse to rent to a tenant, evict the tenant, require extra compensation or harass a tenant because he or she keeps an animal that is specially trained to lead or assist a tenant with impaired vision, hearing or mobility...

This does not apply to me.

4 Answers 4

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I do not believe that there is any such law, although it is conceivable that the landlord is confused about what laws, generally called "non-discrimination laws" actually require.

It may be wise policy for the landlord to treat everyone who owns a pet in the complex to pay pet rent, and it may be not worth the expense to the landlord to pay an attorney to revise his lease for your benefit to afford you the privilege of paying him less rent that he would have charged you otherwise. But the law does not actually require the landlord to do so.

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  • It may also be badly expressed/misremembered advice given to a landlord: I've heard of discrimination on non-protected grounds being used in allegation of discrimination against protected characteristics ("You say it's X, but it's actually Y"). So even if not legally required, it may be (perceived by the landlord as) legally expedient to treat all tenants the same.
    – sharur
    Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 4:35
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"Discrimination" has two meanings. The main meaning is simply "making a choice based on something" (as opposed to random selection). Discrimination is legal. Some forms of discrimination are prohibited by law (e.g. "on the basis of race, religion, disability, age, source of income, political orientation"), and sometimes when people say "discrimination", they really mean an illegal basis for discrimination. Dog vs. guinea pig discrimination is not illegal in any jurisdiction that I know of, but it is clearly an example of discrimination (on the basis, for example, of decreased likelihood of damage). The landlord is not required by law to treat all pets the same, but may legally decide to do so as a business decision (people saying that he discriminates, which could be an unpopular thing to do).

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The landlord may just be trying to avoid situations that could be seen as pretexts, cloaking actual discrimination against a protected class of renters. For example, a landlord who waves or lowers the pet rent for some renters but not others, and it "just happens" that all the folks who didn't get their pet rent lowered were members of a protected class, could end up facing a lawsuit under the Fair Housing Act (assuming the US here). See this HUD document on Theories of Discrimination. It might be sensible for your landlord to have some other objective rule (say, based on the weight of the pet), but they aren't obliged to. Far simpler to just charge all pet owners the same fee.

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Fair Housing. The landlord has no legal obligation to charge pet rent. If the landlord has a "pet policy" they are advised to enforce the policy thoroughly. If the landlord "picks & chooses" who pays a pet fee and who doesn't it could be conceived as one getting a benefit & another discriminated. There are exceptions such as service animals. Also some leases have an addendum as to what constitutes as a pet. For example a cat & dog is a pet but a guinea pig or a fish are not.

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