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Fur, Last and Deposit: Appeals judge issues decision in controversial pet rent case

Fur, Last and Deposit: Appeals judge issues decision in controversial pet rent case

In a landmark lawsuit that has gripped the region and pitted the pet-haves against the pet-have-nots, U.S. circuit Judge Pete S. Cockburn decided in favor of the defendant, child social worker and homeless volunteer Mia Cordero, 31, bringing to a close a lengthy Bernal Heights renter-landlord dispute.

The case, which has played out breathlessly in worldwide media coverage since March 2020, centered on whether or not the landlord, a t-shirt entrepreneur, aspiring rapper and Jamaican food truck company chief executive who self-styles as Trés but whose legal name is Joey Chad Ryan Jr., had the legal right to charge Cordero’s pets rent, and to subsequently attempt to evict them for failure to pay their pet rent.

The matter, which appeared at first blush as a simple misunderstanding between a landlord and a tenant over a rescue cat named Bubbles and an aging dachshund named Banana, soon took on ever more wild heights of complexity.

“In what has certainly been one of the strangest matters of my judicial tenure in the 9th [San Francisco Circuit Court of Appeals], but not the absolute strangest,” wrote Cockburn in his decision, “I find the plight of Bubbles and Banana to be a timely example of extreme landlord abuse, improper litigiousness and, finally, a willful denial of a standard of reasonableness to which we should hold sentient but non-human creatures in a court of law.” 

Chad Ryan, 48, who is not Jamaican, inherited the property involved in the dispute from his deceased mother, Karen “Candy” Chad Ryan, sometime in late 2019. After his initial attempt to double rent across the board for all nine tenants failed in January 2020, Chad Ryan quickly employed a number of other efforts to increase his revenues from the property due to “struggles getting his second memoir published” and claims of cost overruns for the fabrication of his food truck. (No evidence of a first memoir—other than a self-published pamphlet listed on Amazon.com titled Don’t Make Me Creep!—has been found.)

“Simply: Pets cannot pay rent because they do not understand what rent is,” wrote Cockburn. “While the plaintiff is correct in his argument that a pet could, in theory, earn income—such as, according to him, through ‘sidewalk stuff, busking, rodent killing, and other errands’—it does not follow that a pet could understand a contractual agreement and as such, a pet clearly cannot be held accountable on a lease.”

Cordero signed the lease on the second-floor studio apartment in February of this year, for a one-year term. She says that while she disclosed her pets, Bubbles and Banana, at the time, there was no discussion of pet rent. A copy of the lease, which does include a requirement for a pet security deposit, supports her claim. At first, Cordero thought her new landlord was playing a misguided prank.

“It’s hard to even know where to start,” Cordero says. “Trés used to send me literal messages in the middle of the night demanding to know if Bubbles had gotten a job yet. Another time, he put a political poster on my door that said how entitlements are for lazy people, which I guess means renters, that we are bankrupting entrepreneurship in this country.”

On the poster, the judge notes Chad Ryan had crossed out “people” and added “and pets!” to the illustration.

“My basic point to him was that landlords can’t force tenants’ children to pay rent, because children can’t legally sign a contract and generally don’t or shouldn’t have to earn income,” Cordero says. “It would be wrong. So, how is a pet somehow magically supposed to be able to pay rent? That’s what the pet deposit is for.”

Chad Ryan, representing himself as the plaintiff, initially brought a legal complaint after his attempts to evict Bubbles and Banana, but not to evict Cordero “because she’s been paying her rent,” were ignored by the defendant. He sought recompense for “back rent from the smushy-face cat and the old weiner dog” as well as damages for his apparent emotional distress. But without a lease agreement in place to charge pet rent, the complaint was dismissed within 20 minutes.

The saga, however, was only beginning.

“At one point he even emailed and asked me what Banana’s FICO score was, and said that if either pet’s score fell below 650, it would be grounds for eviction. I was like … they’re pets?” Cordero says. 

The dismissal did not deter Chad Ryan, who appealed the decision and expanded his complaint to include his civil rights. Meanwhile, relations between the landlord and the tenants grew fractious. 

At one point, Cordero came to learn that her neighbor directly across the hall, who wishes to remain anonymous, was not being held to the same expectation despite having a pet iguana. “Trés said it was a service iguana and therefore did not have to pay rent, and then he berated me publicly on Facebook as ‘ableist.’ I mean, I’m a social worker,” Cordero says.

The service iguana incident further tangled the media narrative, as a debate about regular pets versus service pets versus emotional support animals (a non-working animal and thus controversial category) exploded in online media. At one point, #lizardsagainsttheBs—a dig at Bubbles and Banana—became a trending hashtag on Twitter. Simultaneously, colony collapse activists misunderstood the hashtag and, in an episode emblematic of the modern media climate of fragmentation and interference, were deceived by a Chamber of Commerce–affiliated bot platform into participating in a smear campaign against Cordero. 

“I woke up one morning to shouting outside my window,” Cordero says. “It was an event being held against my supposed anti-lizard and anti-bee sentiments. Bubbles and Banana had no clue what was going on. They just thought it was another San Francisco thing, I’m sure. I mean, we didn’t have a conversation about it.” 

Chad Ryan, who also lives in the building he owns, was involved in the ensuing melee, blasting his new “Caribe-baby Cali-maybe fusion” album and shouting insults at Bubbles and Banana through a megaphone. “I won’t repeat them,” Cordero says. “Mainly because I couldn’t understand them.”

In an ironic twist, the neighbor with the service iguana called the authorities to disperse the event. “I mean, Mia definitely has nothing against bees,” says the neighbor. “That’s when I felt like Trés was taking it too far. Plus, she’s always been pretty nice to Harold.” (Harold is the tenant’s service iguana.) 

In his conclusion, Cockburn notes, “Chad Ryan, who goes by Trés, dba as Caribe-baby Cali-maybe fusion LLC, appears to have enacted a number of schemes and campaigns hostile to the tenant and her pets, including protests, social media screeds, bot attacks, and other various forms of harassment. In his effort to extract $45 more per month in rent from his tenant, who had already paid the pet deposit, he has escalated what should have been a petty matter to one of the highest courts in the state, and as a result, is likely to prove instrumental in setting back the growing spate of recent efforts by landlords to charge pets rent, as tenants reasonably argue that residents such as minor children and pets cannot legally consent to pay rent.”

“Oh, he already tried to charge kid rent,” says Harold’s owner, upon being read the judge’s decision. “I guess that didn’t come up in court. One of our neighbors came home to find Trés had enlisted his eight-year-old twins in painting that old ice cream truck of his.” (Whether the ice cream truck is also the Jamaican food truck is unclear; Chad Ryan has not returned our calls and emails.)

Further investigation revealed that the parents took him to court for exposing their twins to toxic fumes and for committing labor trafficking and wage theft of a minor. The family settled out of court for an undisclosed number of free months of rent. 

“That’s probably when he got the idea to go after Bubbles and Banana,” Harold’s owner says.

There is a happy ending in all of this, just not for Trés. @bubblesandbanana has become one of the biggest pet-influencer accounts on Instagram—with over 2.7 million followers. Cordero says she was not only able to move into a nicer, bigger 1-bedroom apartment in SOMA last month, she is now able to afford to send her niece to college with the extra revenue she earns from the social media platform. “So it turns out, Bubbles and Banana actually can earn money. But they still can’t pay rent,” she says.

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