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It’s Time to Send Multifamily Breed Restrictions to the Doghouse

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For decades landlords and pets have been feuding like…well…like cats and dogs. In the amenity race to sign a young generation that’s renting more than any other, multifamily operators and managers are changing their tune, working to get more pets (and their owners) of all breeds into their buildings. Policies against certain breeds remain a dated practice the apartment industry is slowly phasing out. 

Millennials are the nation’s largest generation and, with an age range of 25 to 40, are increasingly defining the multifamily sector. Locked out of homeownership by high prices and low wages, 18 percent of millennials plan to rent forever. Some millennials prefer to rent, attracted to the flexibility and easy maintenance. Millennials now account for 31 to 46 percent of all renters, depending on the property type. The 37 million millennials that own pets constitute 27 percent of all pet owners, the largest share of any generation. It isn’t just the hipsters that want their furry companion by their side. Over the last decade, pet ownership in older generations has increased, according to Packaged Facts, a market research firm. 

Add all those stats up, and 66 percent of all renters are pet owners. With two-third of tenants being pet owners, being pet-friendly isn’t just an amenity, it’s necessary. Multifamily owners and operators are giving as much thought to renters with four legs as they are to those with two. Dog waste bag stations are a ubiquitous part of multifamily life now. Dog parks are becoming a common sight. Pet washing and grooming stations are popular and easy to accommodate. Some operators are even arranging dog washing and pet sitting services for residents. 

Yet despite an increasing welcomeness to pets, many complexes still enforce archaic pet policies. Breed restrictions are a common practice. Whether part of some local ordinance, an insurance policy, or by choice, landlords target specific breeds like Pit Bulls, Dobermans, Huskies, and others. For years the veterinary industry has been trying to convince property owners that breed-specific legislation (BSL) is not sound policy, but so far, the multifamily community has not heard that message. As demographics shift and the attitude of their biggest customers change, it’s time the apartment sector finally listens up. 

Aggressive dogs are a problem. Breed bans are not the solution. According to the CDC, more than 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs annually, of which 800,000 receive medical attention for dog bites. Any dog can bite. A comprehensive study published in The Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association in 2013 identified several factors that impact a pet’s likelihood to bite, breed was not among them. A dog’s individual history, behavior, relative size, number of dogs involved, and the vulnerability of the person bitten are all important factors in the likelihood of a dog biting. A dog’s breed is not. Breed-specific bans are a simplistic answer to a far more complex problem that diverts resources from more effective approaches. 

Breed-specific bans are notoriously difficult to enforce. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that over half of all dogs are mixed breed, making visually identifying them difficult, even by those in an animal-related profession. DNA testing is used to determine a dog’s specific breed mix but that further demonstrates the difficulty in enforcement, how much of a breed is too much? Because of the false mythos around some breeds, many dogs are taken to shelters, left to die because they resemble a certain type of dog. All out bans on certain types of dogs make certain breeds unadoptable, sentencing them to death or a lifetime of confinement. 

Instead of enhancing public safety, breed-specific policies do the opposite. When these types of policies are in place, resources are diverted from more effective enforcement methods like dog license laws, leash laws, and spaying and neutering campaigns. BSLs promote irresponsible dog ownership by passing the buck, relying on a policy that isn’t doing anything. Banning certain breeds is a way for communities to feel like they’ve done something for public safety when they haven’t. Dogs become aggressive when they are unsupervised, unneutered, and not socially conditioned. Banning breeds gives a false sense of security, exploited by owners of other breeds, who deemphasize the importance of training and socialization of their own dogs. 

Instead of wasting time and money trying to enforce ineffective policy, multifamily managers and owners should listen to the veterinary community and implement breed-neutral rules that actually work. Better enforcement of dog license laws, increased availability of low-cost sterilization, graduated penalties for dangerous dogs, and laws that hold owners financially accountable for failure to adhere to animal control laws are the foundation of a more effective policy. 

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is clear, there is no evidence that breed-specific laws make communities safer for people or companion animals. The American Kennel Club opposes BSLs. The National Animal Control Association has called for BSLs to end. The CDC opposes BSLs. HUD opposes BSLs. Even the Department of Justice made public statements against BSLs under the Obama Administration. Practically every American institution says the same thing: breed bans do not work and are unjust. Yet the practice persists. Activists wonder what it will take for the multifamily sector to finally get the message and hear the facts. 

States like Texas, New York, and Illinois have made progress banning BSLs statewide, moving to a breed-neutral approach. In total, 21 states have banned the practice. On a local level, BSLs can be incessant. More than 700 U.S. cities have enacted breed-specific laws, according to the ASPCA. Where laws don’t exist or are vague, owners and operators craft their own policies, leaving dogs and owners to suffer the consequences. 

Protecting your asset from pet damage is reasonable and smart. In most cases, rent, deposits, and cleaning fees for pets are sensible. Restrictions on size can help keep the peace among residents, no one wants to listen to a large dog trot around in the unit above them. But dog policies must be breed-neutral. Not only are breed-specific rules unnecessarily discriminatory, but they’re also ineffective. Multifamily owners serious about creating a dog-friendly community to attract pet owners must finally catch up with the times.

Associate Editor
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