I read a book in I think middle school (around the mid 2000s) about a boy who moves into a new apartment with his single mother and his pet mouse. I specifically remember his mother saying that the trick to getting a good apartment in the city is to stay put, unless your landlord is a snake. They remarked on how the mouse is very water efficient and almost never urinates, so possibly a kangaroo mouse. They find an old man there who may be the groundskeeper(?) who shows the boy this secret hidden wooded area where there are all kinds of different animals, including deer, that the old man has been taking care of using the space as a kind of secret animal sanctuary. The boy knows all kinds of things about animals - way more than a typical boy his age would reasonably be expected to know. He has a bad habit of comparing people's faces to whatever species of animal he thinks they look like. I would guess that it was published no earlier than the 1990s.

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The Beastly Arms by Patrick Jennings

Description from goodreads.com:

An accessible middle-grade novel from popular author Patrick Jennings now in paperback. 11-year-old Nickel moves with his mother into a mysterious apartment building called The Beastly Arms.

11-year-old Nickel and his mother need to find a new apartment. When their search takes them to an unfamiliar part of the city, Nickel is drawn to a strange building at the end of an alley - a building called the Beastly Arms.

Even though the rent in dirt cheap and the apartment is beautiful, Nickel's mom thinks the Beastly Arms is creepy. So does his best friend, Inez. Even his pet kangaroo rat, Miriam, seems worried. But Nickel, an avid photographer who has a gift for seeing what others don't, senses that the Beastly Arms houses a secret that only he can unearth...

It's available on archive.org.

Quote from page 47:

"It's possible," his mom said. "I can't imagine any of these will be worth seeing, considering where they are. Naturally, the only places we can afford are in the worst neighborhoods. The trick of finding a nice affordable apartment in this city is to stay put. Every time you move you end up with a worse place for the same money Of course, you have to stay put in a place that isn't run by a snake."

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