Who Are You Really Saying “No” To? – Exploring the Unseen Faces Behind Pet Restrictions in Rental Housing

By Judy Bellack, Industry Principal, The Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative

We’re all familiar with the typical pet restrictions in ‘pet-friendly’ rental housing . . . no large dogs, no so-called “aggressive” breeds, and a plethora of required fees. But when a rental housing operator says no to someone’s beloved pet, you’re not just saying no to the animal. You’re saying no to the person who loves that animal and considers them a member of their family. You’re saying that while your property may be ‘pet-friendly’ because you accept some pets, your property isn’t pet-inclusive. Unfortunately, properties that aren’t pet-inclusive are excluding quite a few pets.

For many people, their pet is their closest companion. They provide love, support, and companionship. Pets can also help reduce stress and anxiety, and they can even improve physical health. According to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), pets have an enormous impact on our quality of life and well-being through social support, reduced depression and other psychosocial predictors of health; and pet owners have been reported to have higher life-satisfaction than non-owners.

When you say no to a pet, you’re not simply saying the pet isn’t welcome in your community; you’re telling that owner no to that companionship, no to the physical and emotional benefits their pet brings, and no to their choice of home. And in some situations, you’re also telling them that they must choose between their pet and a place to live.

You may be surprised to learn that human reasons for surrendering a pet outnumber pet reasons 3:1. According to Best Friends Animal Society, surrenders due to housing average 14.7%, second only to “too many animals.” Financial reasons come in at number 5 on the list. Due largely to policy restrictions, as well as post-pandemic increases in rental rates and the proliferation of pet fees, these surrenders are on the rise.

Take the CNBC story of the Pima Animal Care Center in Tucson, Arizona, where the number of housing-related surrenders has risen from 6% in 2021 to 18% in 2022.  “Many shelters report in recent months that the reasons people are needing to give up their animals has changed,” said the organization’s Executive Director, Stephanie Filer. “They’re now more commonly seeing issues related to housing or finances as to why families – often tearfully – are forced to say goodbye to their family’s pet.”

Also consider our conversation with Chris Ramon, Chief Program Officer for Pasadena Humane, an animal shelter that serves 11 cities in the Los Angeles area. Chris tells us that despite every attempt to offer alternatives to surrender, shelters have no solutions for when landlords charge high pet deposits, fees, and pet rent or restrict large breed dogs. One pet owner recently surrendered their beloved pet because – after living in their car for months – the only apartment they could secure had a strict policy of no dogs over 20 pounds. The owner told Chris, “I was always that person that said I’d live in my car before giving up my dog, and I can’t believe it’s come to this.” 

So, back to the original question – who are you saying no to? The newly divorced mom who wants to keep the family golden retriever with her already-traumatized kids? The college graduate whose boxy-headed mixed breed dog has been his loyal companion for the last five years? The transferring couple who rescued a German Shepherd during COVID, and now needs an apartment in a new city? The family that has two cats and a dog and just wants to keep everyone together?

If you’re an operator, please consider reevaluating your pet policies to allow for greater pet inclusivity by welcoming larger dogs and eliminating breed restrictions (after all, behavior really is about the individual dog and not the breed, according to the science), as well as quantity rules that take different types of pets into consideration. The benefits are compelling, not only for residents and their pets, but for operators as well. Pet ownership continues to trend upward (so it’s a huge market you’re missing out on), and pet owners tend to stay longer in their rental homes according to the Pet-Inclusive Housing Report. That translates to lower turnover costs and greater NOI – which is a great reason to rethink charging these valuable residents additional fees for their pets.

We believe that everyone deserves the joy of pet ownership, regardless of where they live; we hope you’ll agree.

For more information on how to make your property more pet-inclusive as well as insightful case studies, please visit the Pet Inclusive Housing Initiative.