It’s been more than two months since Eva St. Jean started looking for an apartment where she could live with her dog, Jasmine, a 7-year-old black Lab and retriever mix.

Since the 2011 death of her sister, whom St. Jean lived with for eight years since moving to Maine, she had an idea that she might have to look for a new place. But it wasn’t until she started searching that the reality of how hard it might be hit her.

After searching dozens of newspaper and online ads and even driving through Waterville and surrounding communities looking for places for rent, St. Jean, of Clinton, kept running into the same problem, even with a $700 per month budget. Everywhere she looked she couldn’t find an apartment that would allow Jasmine.

Many landlords in Waterville say the explanation is simple — they don’t want to allow pets or they have put restrictions in place regarding pets because of past instances of disruptions or damage in their buildings and because of increasing restrictions by insurance companies. But St. Jean and some other pet owners and advocates say the restrictions are unfair and that for many responsible pet owners it can be a struggle to find housing in the Waterville area.

“We have no place to go,” said St. Jean, 57, speaking recently from the home of a friend where she has been staying. “Even houses that are for rent don’t want pets. Every place that I’ve seen in the paper, every one I’ve seen on the computer, they all say no dogs. Half of them say no pets at all.”

About 65 percent of households in the U.S. own pets, according to the Humane Society of the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 6,539 occupied housing units in the city of Waterville. Of those, 3,060 are owner-occupied and 3,479 are rentals.

It’s not clear exactly how many of those rentals allow pets, but several large property management companies and individual landlords said they either do not allow pets or have restrictions in place that would exclude St. Jean and Jasmine from living there.

Some smaller landlords and property owners are more flexible, but many of them also don’t allow pets.

“It’s a difficult issue,” said Lindsey Burrill, president of the Central Maine Apartment Owners Association and a property manager at Brownhouse Properties. “I’m a pet owner and a pet lover, but it’s kind of difficult because our hands are tied.”

CITY NOT PET-FRIENDLY

About 30 percent of intakes at the Humane Society Waterville Area come from people who have to give their pets up because they can’t find housing, said Director Lisa Smith. The problem is especially bad during the summer when people are more likely to move.

“I do suspect Waterville is not as pet-friendly as many other areas,” said Smith, who is also a landlord in the Portland area. “I’m not sure why. I don’t know if it’s because of past problems, but by and large we do see Waterville rentals not being as pet-friendly.”

Complaints from neighbors about noise or mess, damage to carpeting and wood floors and loud or aggressive dogs are all among the problems landlords in the area said they have seen from allowing pets and the reason why many have adopted pet policies or restrictions on what is allowed.

At Brownhouse Properties, which oversees about 100 rental units in Waterville and about 300 in the area, the company allows small pets — either a cat or a dog of 15 pounds or less — with a $50 upfront fee and an extra $25 per month. There is no charge for service animals.

“When we first started we were a lot more liberal, but through years of experience we’ve learned that if you give ’em an inch they take 20 miles,” said Sherwood Booker, an owner of the company and Burrill’s father. “I’m talking about the 20 percent of tenants who don’t take care of anything. Eighty percent are very good, responsible tenants, but that 20 percent ruins it for all the rest.”

Booker said he does get complaints — “they call us all kinds of names” — but he can’t afford not to have a pet policy in place because when damage happens people don’t pay for it, he said.

“All the landlords who I know who do it professionally have a pet policy,” Booker said. “We have to, to protect ourselves from the damage.”

The story is similar at Perkins Leasing and Management, which oversees about 150 units where, “by and large, a majority of them do not like having pets,” said property manager Greg Perkins. The company’s largest property, a 30-unit building at 77 Elm St., does not allow pets at all.

“There’s the wear and tear the animals bring to the property,” Perkins said. “Dogs if they scratch up floors with their nails and things like that. Cats can urinate on the carpets. There’s just a lot of issues for landlords that come when the tenants have pets.”

The Waterville Housing Authority, the city’s largest landlord with 273 rental properties in Waterville proper and others in Oakland, requires a deposit of $300 from pet owners — refundable if there’s no damage — and only allows dogs 30 pounds or less.

“It’s a managing aspect, but it’s also for the pet,” said Diane Townsend, the authority’s executive director. “I don’t know that it’s fair to have a larger animal cooped up inside a small apartment all day long. We’re not trying to be the pet police, but it’s also just the larger the dog, the more damage is possible.”

Calls seeking comment were not returned from Keystone Management, which oversees at least 15 multi-unit apartment buildings, including Appleton Apartments on Hathaway Street, the Thayer Garden Apartments on Quarry Road and Orchard Park Apartments on Crestwood Drive. The company’s websites indicate that some of its apartments do not allow dogs.

Mark Plummer, a landlord who owns five apartment buildings in Waterville, does not allow dogs in any of his buildings with the exception of service animals.

“I’ve just run into too many issues over the years,” Plummer said. “People say they aren’t going to be a nuisance, but you don’t know if they’re going to bark or not and it can be a problem in a multi-family building.”

Weight limits and other restrictions can be burdensome for pet owners like St. Jean, who said she is prohibited from renting many places by Jasmine’s size — she’s about 80 pounds — but Burrill, of the Central Maine Apartment Owners Association, said she recommends that all apartment owners have some sort of policy in place.

“I think it’s just a good business practice,” she said. “It’s something to think about when a tenant moves in and good to lay the ground rules for what you expect.”

Often times, she said, landlords’ hands are tied because of increasing pressure from insurance companies, who might only allow certain breeds or who might consider pets a liability in commercial rental units.

“We don’t want to turn away good tenants that own pets, but at the same time insurance companies are increasingly difficult to deal with when it comes to pets,” Burrill said. “If a dog were to bite someone, really the victim could go after me and then I would be falling back on my insurance company and they’re looking at a claim.”

GOOD PET OWNERS, GOOD TENANTS

Still, not all landlords have the same restrictions when it comes to pets, and advocates say that by having too many restrictions or banning pets all together, landlords are excluding a large percentage of responsible tenants from living in their buildings.

“People who are good pet owners are oftentimes going to be good tenants,” Smith said. “When you have someone that cares for an animal, chances are they also care for themselves and they’re going to be respectful and care for the building they live in.”

One company that doesn’t have a weight restriction on dogs, but urges residents to only have one dog, is East Side Rentals, which oversees about 70 units including apartments and manufactured housing in Waterville.

The company charges $100 up front and then $20 per month per dog and $10 per month per cat, said co-owner Chris McMorrow, who said he feels he is among a minority of landlords that don’t place weight restrictions on dogs. The policy has helped him attract and keep more tenants for longer periods, he said.

“People love their dogs,” said McMorrow, who is also vice president of the Central Maine Apartment Owners Association. “I have fewer people moving and less turnover, and the reason is that many people say no to pets.”

At the Hathaway Creative Center, tenants are allowed to have up to two pets not weighing more than 80 pounds or one pet of up to 80 pounds with an additional down payment and additional monthly fees. There are also restrictions on breeds, and the agency asks to meet the pet before it moves in, said Property Manager Rick Pullen.

Rents at the 67-unit Hathaway Center range from $750 to $1,850 per month, and there’s also currently a waiting list to get in. About one-third to one-half of tenants have pets, Pullen said, and they haven’t had any major problems with behavior or damage.

“People have pets,” Pullen said. “I think it definitely gives us an edge because there are a lot of places that don’t allow dogs.”

Sandy Messier, who owns a rental property in Anson and manages two others owned by her son in Waterville, has no restrictions on allowing pets and also counts herself among the few area landlords who do. She does collect an extra security deposit from pet owners, refundable if there is no damage — and for the most part there hasn’t been damage.

“I think a lot of landlords don’t maintain their buildings anyway. I guess they don’t want the hassle of any of it,” Messier said.

Samantha Fields, a tenant in one of Messier’s buildings, said she lucked out finding her Vigue Street apartment on Craigslist. Fields has an American foxhound, Addie, for whom she recently raised over $8,000 to undergo intensive heart surgery.

While Fields had to move from Colorado because of health issues made worse by the altitude, she said she chose Waterville in part because it seemed dog-friendly.

Still, “There just aren’t a lot of places available for pet owners,” she said. “(My landlords) have been fantastic. I think they’re kind of special.”

“I’m a pet lover so I know how important it is to people,” Messier said. “If something comes up, my husband and I just take care of it. People seem to be really appreciative of that.”

Now, there are no openings at Messier’s apartments, which means St. Jean, who has a full-time job at the Huhtamaki paper and packaging plant, will have to keep looking. She’s already given up her sister’s two dogs — Maxine May and Molly — to the humane society and is worried that as time goes on she could be faced with the decision of also giving Jasmine away. She’s also willing to pay an extra security deposit on an apartment that allows Jasmine.

“Not everybody can afford to go out and buy a home,” St. Jean said, stroking Jasmine’s head as the dog looked up at her affectionately. “It’s important for people to be able to keep their animals. Some days it’s the only thing that keeps me going.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm