By Judy Bellack, Industry Principal, The Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative
As the housing landscape continues to evolve, so do attitudes toward pets and their place in our lives. Today, not only do more people have pets than ever before, they generally consider their furry friends to be integral members of the family; and as a result, the demand for pet-inclusive rental accommodations is on the rise. In response to this growing trend, legislative bodies across the country have been reevaluating the approach to pet policies in housing and insurance.
With a notable shift towards prohibiting breed and size bans of pets, it has become crucial for rental housing operators to be aware of these changes and adapt their policies accordingly. For example, the Pets Belong With Families Act has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support, and would prevent restrictions on pets in public housing based on breed. This same bipartisan group also introduced the Providing for Unhoused People with Pets Act (PUPP), which would provide funding for shelters to retrofit facilities to better accommodate pets. In both cases, there is clearly recognition at a national level that pet ownership should be protected in various housing situations. While those examples would not impact the private rental housing industry, the abundance of state legislation across the country just may. These bills cover various topics, including:
- prohibiting insurance companies from denying, canceling, refusing to renew, or modifying a policy based solely on breed
- defining the type and amount of pet fees that may or may not be collected by a landlord
- prohibiting requirements to declaw or devocalize an animal (and yes, astoundingly, some rental housing operators do require these barbaric practices)
Colorado recently passed the Pet Ownership in Housing Act (HB 23-1068), which both prohibits insurance companies from making determinations based on breed (except if an individual dog is determined to be dangerous) and limits the amounts of pet deposits and pet rent. It’s worth noting the specific language which introduces the specifics of the bill which demonstrates the sentiment of the Colorado legislature: A. Each year tens of thousands of pets enter Colorado’s animal shelters. Frequent reasons for surrendering a pet include issues related to housing, moving, or landlords. Often, rehoming a pet is the last option for an individual or family and it has a detrimental impact on the physical and emotional well-being of the pet and of those who surrender it. B. majority of Americans consider their pets to be family members, but many people have trouble finding housing because properties are often advertised as “pet-friendly” but include high fees and restrictions, including restrictions on breed, weight, and quantity, that create barriers for pet-owning tenants. Some restrictions even force families to choose between keeping a beloved pet or moving into a new home. C. Extensive restrictions on pets in the housing context disproportionately impact lower-income households and prevent lower-income households from experiencing the benefits of pet ownership. D. Due to such restrictions, there is a severe need for the availability of properties in Colorado that welcome pets at a reasonable cost; and E. It is the intent of the general assembly to encourage housing developers, owners, landlords, insurers, and other operators to increase pet-inclusive affordable housing in Colorado. And Colorado is not alone.
Texas HB-1166, if passed, will limit landlords to collecting a one-time refundable pet deposit at the initiation of a lease, or monthly pet rent not to exceed $20, but not both. Additionally, Texas HB-1159/SB-349 passed earlier this year, and prohibits restrictions based on breed in public housing; since Texas already has laws on the books preventing local governments from restricting dog ownership based on breed, it isn’t too far a leap to project that private rental housing will come under the same microscope.
Florida, which already has laws on the books prohibiting breed-specific legislation (BSL, i.e., bans) just passed SB-942 which restricts public housing authorities from establishing policies that restrict a dog based on size, weight, or breed. This legislation also eliminates any ‘grandfathered’ local ordinances from restricting a specific breed. Again, while this initially impacts public housing, it serves as an indicator of public and legislative sentiment surrounding breed and size restrictions which will likely translate to private housing.
There are currently at least 21 states with similar existing or proposed legislation. It’s important to note that legislators are not prohibiting the right to remove or restrict an individual animal that has been deemed dangerous or has a history of dangerous behavior. There is more and more consensus, however, that ‘dangerous’ does not equate to breed or size. Fortunately, there is ample science and data that supports the trend toward more inclusive pet policies:
- This article from Smithsonian highlights a genome study in the journal Science that concludes breed alone is not an accurate way to determine a dog’s personality (in fact, less than 9% of a dog’s behavior is attributable to breed).
- According to the Pet Inclusive Housing Report, dog-owning rental residents stay an average of 21% longer; yet 72% of renters state that pet-friendly housing is hard to find, largely because only 8% of the rental market is restriction-free. Also, the report cites average pet damages of only $210, from only 9% of units containing pets.
- Experts in the domestic animal field agree that using breed as criteria for establishing policy is not recommended or effective, including the Human Society of the United States and the American Veterinary Medical Association; and both the Centers for Disease Control and the American Bar Association also recommend against breed as a determinant of policy.
With the pet-inclusive movement gaining momentum and more legislative changes on the horizon, apartment operators would be wise to proactively modify their restrictive pet policies. Housing providers can not only attract a broader pool of prospective residents, but also foster a more inclusive and compassionate living environment. Embracing pet-inclusive initiatives can lead to increased satisfaction and retention, as well as a positive reputation in the market.
By recognizing the importance of pets in people’s lives, rental housing operators can position themselves as forward-thinking and empathetic providers, ultimately ensuring long-term success in an evolving rental landscape. Many savvy rental housing operators are already ahead of the curve in easing or eliminating breed and size restrictions, including MAA, Milhaus, TMG, Paradigm, MC Companies, and J.C. Hart among many others. To view recent case studies from industry operators who have lifted restrictions, as well as helpful information on why and how your company can move in this direction, visit the Pet Inclusive Housing Initiative website.