Bill would end pet leasing in Florida

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The term “lease to own” is quite common for residents searching for a home or even a vehicle. However, a relatively new trend, known as “pet leasing,” has lawmakers pushing to ban the practice in Florida.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, of approximately 65 stores that sell pets in Florida, all but six offer leasing options.

The “lease to own” option is most commonly offered for purebred dog sales.

A Florida lawmaker has called the practice predatory, and hopes to ban it. Sen. Annette Tadoe, D-Miami, filed SB 316. The bill declares that certain contracts entered into on or after July. 1, 2019, for the sale or lease of a pet are “void and unenforceable as being against the public policy” of the state.

It would also require contracts to be voided if the pet could be used as collateral to ensure payments of the contract.

Re’Neisha Lee, a dog owner who was unaware of pet leasing, said she would never lease a dog.

“I have never heard of predatory leasing, but I can say from owning and caring for my own puppy, that I would not be able to lease a pet,” Lee said. “Having a pet is like having a child and after a while you begin to love that pet like its your own. I could not see giving my dog up and starting over again with a new pet.”

For people who do consider leasing a pet, this process can be seen as similar to an installment plan. It hopes to spare owners of a large fee up-front and instead create smaller payments. This also leads to added fees such as an interest that the owner may be unaware of.

Carol Hoover, owner of a Tallahassee pet store, Carol's Critters, said that when people lease to own a pet they may not be completely sure of what exactly this arrangement entails.

“I’m sure when people signed this, they did not realize that it was a lease, I'm sure they realized they were financing the pet,” said Hoover.

She believes that this misconception of leasing to own a pet can be eliminated, and applauds the bill’s intentions.

“If nothing else, [this bill] will help eliminate confusion that people might have in not realizing that they are actually purchasing the pet instead of leasing,”  said Hoover.

Through this bill, lawmakers hope to protect consumers from deceptive finance arrangements and protect pets from the potential harmful effects of these sales.

Leasing pets is becoming an issue across the U.S. Last week, according to the United Press International, a lawsuit was filed in the New Jersey Superior Court by two women who said they were “effectively duped” into leasing their dog.

According to the suit, the seller classified the transaction of their dog, Cooper, as a sale, but specified lease terms in underlying documentation.

With the issue of consumers being unaware of finance arrangements involving pets, New Jersey and Florida may join New York, Nevada and California, three states that have banned pet leasing.

If this bill is passed in Florida, a person who offers a pet for lease or as collateral could pay a civil fine of up to $500 for a first violation and up to $1,000 for a second violation.