I recently encountered a very sad and difficult situation involving a dog that had been adopted from our shelter, and returned by its devastated owners. It turned out that the house they had been renting was sold to a new owner, who decided that their mixed-breed dog resembled a “pitbull” and gave them the choice of giving up the dog or being evicted. Although the family was heartbroken, they had no choice but to surrender their handsome, happy, well-socialized, 35-pound dog only three weeks after adopting him.
Since the adopters’ lease did not specifically address the issue of their dog, the new owner was well within his rights to discriminate against him.[i] The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating against human tenants, but their pets are not covered under this law. The only exception to this is a requirement for landlords to make “reasonable accommodation” for service animals, to include Emotional Support Animals.[ii]
In the U.S., both landlords and tenants are presently under serious pressure, a number of factors are combining into a perfect storm that is creating a shortage of rental homes: During the pandemic, there was a decrease in new construction and in people relocating to new homes; but as we emerged from the COVID-19 lockdowns there was a surge in the formation of new households.[iii] Also, the increase in short-term rentals, such as AirBnB, has cut into the availability of family housing units and driven up the cost.[iv] This has placed renters in a very unfavorable position with regard to finding properties that meet their needs and allow dogs to be kept, and landlords have little incentive to be flexible with prospective tenants. Indications are that the trend in reduced availability and higher costs may be easing, but there won’t be relief in the short term.[v]
In addition, The insurance industry is putting pressure on landlords to limit their tenants’ dog ownership. Landlords are required to carry liability insurance on any properties they own, which is intended to cover any injuries to tenants or guests – including dog bites. Many insurance companies have determined that certain breeds are “dangerous”, meaning that they are more liable to inflict bites that involve insurance claims, and have placed them on a “banned list”.[vi] If these companies find that a banned dog is being kept on an insured premises, they are able to limit coverage for dog bites or refuse to cover bites altogether, raise the landlord’s premiums, or cancel the insurance policy altogether.[vii][viii] As a result, many landlords have established breed restrictive policies that match those of their insurance carriers.
So, what can a renter do?
First off, be knowledgeable about the laws in your state. Certain states, such as Michigan, Illinois, New York, Nevada and Pennsylvania, prohibit the dog breed restrictions in insurance coverage.[ix] Other states, such as Florida, have adopted laws that prohibit dog breed or size restrictions in public housing. But, also be conscious of the fact that, even if your state or municipality places no restrictions on breed ownership, there is nothing to prevent your landlord from doing so.
Second, if your landlord has no restrictions on a dog breed, have that included in the text of your lease. This way, even if your landlord sells the property, the new owner must honor the terms of the lease until it expires. And be aware that, in a month to month rental, you have no such protections.
Third, be willing to negotiate with your landlord. If he has reservations about your dog living on his property, offer to have renter’s insurance coverage for both damage to the property and liability coverage for any bites or injuries caused by the dog. There are several national insurance companies that offer these policies for renters.[x] It is very possible that the landlord may be amenable to allowing your dog to reside with you if you take on the insurance burden.
Unfortunately, as a renter you have very few rights and little power in this situation. But these steps can help to overcome a landlord’s reluctance to allow your choice of dog at his property.
[i] American Tenant Screen (2023, January 29). Landlords can Discriminate Against Dog Breeds. Retrieved from https://americantenantscreen.com/landlords-you-can-discriminate-against-dog-breeds/
[ii] The Humane Society of the United States (nd). The Fair Housing Act. Retrieved from https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/fair-housing-act-and-assistance-animals
[iii] Bahney, A. (2023, March 8). The US Housing Market is Short 6.5 Million Homes. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/08/homes/housing-shortage/index.html
[iv] Barron, K., Kung, E. and Proserpio, D., The Effect of Home-Sharing on House Prices and Rents: Evidence from Airbnb (March 4, 2020). SSRN, doi 10.2130/ssrn.3006832
[v] Helhoski, A. (2023, July 21). May Rent Report: Inflated Rent is Poised for Decline. Nerdwallet. Retrieved from https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/finance/may-2023-rent-report
[vi] Maughan, J. (2016, November 17) Landlords, Insurance and Dog Breed Restrictions. [Web Log]. Retrieved from https://rentprep.com/blog/property-maintenance/landlords-insurance-banned-dog-breeds/
[vii] Hagen K. and Waterworth, K. (2023, August 1). Understanding Dog Breed Restrictions in Homeowners Insurance. The Motley Fool. Retrieved from https://www.fool.com/the-ascent/insurance/homeowners/homeowners-insurance-dog-breed-restrictions/
[viii] Leefeldt, E. and Danise A. (2023, August 23). Dog Breeds Banned by Home Insurance Companies. Forbes Advisor. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/advisor/homeowners-insurance/banned-dog-breed-lists/
[ix] Sheppard, A. (2023, June 28). Homeowners Insurance and Dog Breed Restrictions. FindLaw. Retrieved from https://www.findlaw.com/injury/torts-and-personal-injuries/homeowners-insurance-and-dog-breed-restrictions.html
[x] Hagen and Waterworth (2023)