AUSTIN (KXAN) — A monthly fee or initial deposit is standard for Texas renters who have pets, but a bill filed this legislative session could change what landlords can require in the future.

State Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, brought forward House Bill 1166 to potentially alter what landlords in Texas can tack onto a pet owner’s lease. The legislation, if it passes, would allow landlords to either cap a monthly pet fee at $20 or collect a one-time refundable pet deposit at the outset of someone’s lease. However, the proposal would prevent them from doing both.

Rosenthal, whose family has four dogs, told KXAN that these kinds of costs imposed by landlords are currently unregulated in the state. He said his bill would place some “reasonable limits” that do not exist at the moment.

“Absolutely, landlords should be able to cover the costs incurred with having a pet in the rental space,” Rosenthal said. “But those deposits should be refundable if there’s no damage or if they’re going to charge a monthly pet rent that’d be capped at a reasonable amount. We’re going to ask the landlords, landowners to choose — have a reasonable deposit or a reasonable pet rent so that they can still cover their costs without basically pricing family members out of their homes.”

He said he believes changing this could also help with the housing affordability crisis that people living in Texas cities are dealing with now.

“Not only is housing scarce, rental housing is scarce, forcing the cost to go up, but then you add these types of fees on top of that,” he said. “It literally forces families to choose between. In thousands of cases across Texas in the last few years, families are making decisions between being able to keep their pet that they consider a family member or having a place to live. It’s an untenable situation.”

The Texas Apartment Association, a nonprofit advocating for the rental housing industry, has not yet taken a stance on this bill but opposed similar bills filed in the past. David Mintz, the organization’s vice president of government affairs, criticized the proposal.

In a statement shared with KXAN, Mintz wrote, “HB 1166 doesn’t consider that deposits and monthly charges for animals are used for different purposes.  A deposit covers extra damage that may be caused by a pet, such as the need to deflea carpets or remove urine stains.  Monthly charges help cover the cost of services for pet owners, including personnel to pick up pet litter, dog parks, pet washing stations, etc.  Regardless, all fees are disclosed upfront before someone signs a lease so a pet owner can make an informed decision before renting at a property that charges a pet deposit and/or a monthly charge.”

Rosenthal responded to the association’s concerns about his legislation, saying he would like to work with the organization to understand those and potentially soften some of the provisions.

He also expressed confidence in getting the bill through the GOP-led legislature because, in his words, “Republicans love pets, too.” He pointed out how a Republican lawmaker introduced a bill during the last session to create criminal penalties for unlawfully restraining a dog, which Gov. Greg Abbott ultimately signed into law after vetoing an earlier version.

It remains unclear whether the legislation will be able to pass the Texas House and Senate or if the governor would support it enough to sign it into law. If it becomes law, though, it would go into effect on Sept. 1, 2023. The new rules that this bill would bring to pet fees and deposits in Texas would only apply to leases signed or renewed on or after that effective date.

A study published two years ago examined rental properties in several Texas cities to “understand the extent to which renting with pets may create an additional cost burden for renters.” The researchers specifically looked at apartments that described themselves as pet friendly. What researchers found for Texas cities is that higher-cost, pet-friendly units are less likely to have pet fees. These units are more likely to be in high-income and predominantly white communities, while the heaviest pet fees land in low-income and predominantly Latino communities.