Misconceptions Underlay Breed Restrictions

Misconceptions Underlay Breed Restrictions

Written by Judy Bellack, Industry Principal, Pet-Inclusive Housing, Michelson Found Animals

November 15, 2021

It’s a conversation that I can’t help but look back on and wince.

When my daughter was about to give birth to her first child, I urged her to give her pit bull away. Like so many of us, I had been conditioned to think of the breed as dangerous, and the thought of such a dog around a small child made me – to say the least – quite nervous.

Now, 11 years and four grandchildren later, my daughter’s pit bull has proven to be the most gentle girl imaginable and is a treasured member of our family. She lets kids pull and push on her, dress her up, ride her and otherwise do their best to harass her. She remains unflappable and good-natured throughout it all.

According to the Best Friends Animal Society, “scientific studies have proven that pit bull terriers are just as safe and gentle as any other dog. In fact, they have ranked better than golden retrievers or border collies on temperament tests, according to the American Temperament Test Society.”

I think of my story and the research on pit bulls when I think about breed restrictions in multifamily. The fact is, there is no data to support that any one breed is more dangerous than another, and by banning certain breeds, apartment owners and operators are unnecessarily closing their doors to good renters and good pets.

Many owners and operators cite their property insurance requirements when explaining their breed restrictions. But an article on the website of The Humane Society of the United States notes: “Instead of using actuarial data and other metrics the industry typically uses to measure risk, many [insurance] companies continue to rely on an outdated study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was published over 25 years ago and has since been rejected by its authors as flawed and unreliable.”

According to the same article, State Farm is one carrier that doesn’t consider breed when underwriting property policies. There is also a growing movement at the state level to restrict the ability of carriers to include breed as a factor when underwriting homeowner policies. For example, Governor Hochul of New York recently signed an animal welfare legislative package which prohibits insurers from refusing to issue or renew, cancel, or charge or impose an increased premium for certain policies based solely on the breed of dog owned. You can read more about that package  here.  

It’s also worth considering the American Veterinary Medical Association’s opposition to laws banning or restricting certain breeds. The same reasoning could be applied to similar bans at apartment communities. 

Concerning these laws, AVMA states: “Dogs are more likely to become aggressive when they are unsupervised, unneutered, and not socially conditioned to live closely with people or other dogs. Banning a specific breed can give a community a false sense of security, and deemphasize to owners of other breeds the importance of appropriate socialization and training, which is a critical part of responsible pet ownership.”

Old habits – and false assumptions – may die hard, but the time has come for apartment communities to consider relaxing or eliminating their breed restrictions. These regulations don’t keep dangerous dogs away, and they mean a significant sample size of quality renters won’t be able to live in your community. It’s a good thing in and of itself to provide a good home to residents and their pets, but there are also important financial benefits to doing so.

The 2021 Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative Report, a collaboration between Michelson Found Animals and the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute found that residents in pet-friendly housing stay 21% longer than those in non-pet-friendly housing; this translates into reduced turn costs and marketing spends because units aren’t being vacated as frequently. Also, 83% of owner/operators say pet-friendly vacancies are filled faster.

Instead of breed restrictions, apartment operators should carefully screen individual pets and their owners to flag any potential behavioral issues. They should also have rules and regulations encouraging responsible pet ownership, such as steep fines for not cleaning up dog waste and for allowing dogs to roam unleashed, and clear procedures for dealing with dogs who bite other residents or pets.

By doing so, operators are being good citizens, as well as  treating pet owners fairly – while improving their bottom lines.