New Jersey pet dealers can no longer lease dogs and cats to consumers, after Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law Friday banning rent-to-own animal contracts.
The new law is aimed at protecting unsuspecting consumers from leasing expensive pets they otherwise can’t afford. Lawmakers said consumers were unknowingly entering lease agreements, paying much more over time, only to find out that they did not actually own the animals.
It’s unclear how prevalent pet leasing is in New Jersey, but one retailer was sued last year over the lease agreements.
“As the owner of three pets and a strong proponent of animal protections, I am proud to sign legislation that bans the predatory practice of leasing dogs and cats,” Murphy, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Pet leasing companies pitch their products as a way to boost sales for retailers by giving consumers another way to pay for a pet. The contracts typically require consumers to make monthly payments, plus a balloon payment at the end of the agreement, in order to keep the pet. A contract reviewed by The Inquirer gave one company the right to repossess a pet if an owner defaulted.
Under the new law, pet dealers will face fines of up to $10,000 for a first offense and $30,000 for subsequent violations. The measure carves out purebred dogs and cats that are leased for breeding, as well as animals trained as police or guide dogs.
New Jersey lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the proposed pet lease ban on June 27. The Senate passed the bill by 37-0, while the Assembly approved it by 74-1.
“Families interested in buying from a pet store a special breed of dog or cat pet should not be conned into an overpriced leasing agreement,” Assemblyman John Armato (D., Atlantic), a sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement.