DC Bill Could Prevent Renters from Being Discriminated Against Because of Their Pets · The Wildest

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This DC Bill Will Prevent Renters from Being Discriminated Against Because of Their Pets

If passed, it will mark progress in the fight against breed-specific legislation.

by Hilary Weaver
May 23, 2024
Afro american woman, caucasian man and their pit bull dog together.
Eva / Adobe Stock

On Wednesday, the Council of the District of Columbia announced a new, proposed bill, The Pets in Housing Amendment Act, which would secure affordable housing for pets in the Washington, D.C. area. Assembled by The Animal Welfare Project at the George Washington University Law School, the bill — if it passes — would ban restrictions and higher fees for pet parents of certain breeds of animals, cap pet fees at $25 per month, and limit pet security deposits at $300. 

“Too often a person’s beloved companion and animal is a barrier to finding and staying in affordable housing here in D.C. So today, we’re trying to do something about that,” council-member Robert White said as he spoke on the steps of the John A. Wilson building, where the council meets. He continued: “It’s common sense — but game-changing — updates to housing policy.”

The roadblocks to housing for pet parents

Unfortunately, a big barrier to getting a dog approved to live in a rental property is their breed, regardless of other factors, including behavior. Kailey McNeal, a law student at George Washington University, told DC News Now that she came up against challenges when trying to gain housing that would accept her Bulldog mix, Nakia.

“Most apartments that are pet friendly place restrictions on what type of dogs they can have based on the breed and size for the animal,” she said. “My landlord didn’t care what she looked like, if she was aggressive or potty trained or destructive. All that mattered was if her paperwork named her as a dangerous breed.”

Fortunately, McNeal was able to move into her apartment with Nakia, but these types of stories don’t always end quite so happily. The bill, which could change all of that for Washington residents, still requires a vote by the council.

A history of breed discrimination in the U.S.

McNeal’s experience is hardly an outlier. As we’ve reported in the past, at least a dozen breeds and their mixes are commonly found on insurance companies’ and landlords’ “prohibited” lists. These restrictions disproportionately affect communities of color — particularly Black communities. In Harvard Law School Legislative Policy Fellow Ann Linder’s  2018 report, “The Black Man’s Dog,” Linder notes that keeping certain breeds from rental housing is “a new form of redlining to keep minorities out of majority-white neighborhoods.”

Adam Goldfarb, the former director of Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)’s Pets at Risk program, told us that renters, like McNeal, run up against this roadblock more than homeowners: “It’s harder for renters since they don’t control the insurance used by the rental property.” 

Per the 2023-2024 survey by the American Pet Products Association, 66 percent of U.S. households have a pet (that translates to 86.9 million households). Pit Bull-type dogs (Pit Bull is not a breed) are often at the top of every list, because of the harmful stereotype the breed type has received over the years from popular culture and the media.

The list of commonly restricted breeds includes but is not limited to Terriers and Bull Dogs (Pit Bull-type dogs and mixes), Alaskan Malamutes, Boxers, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Dalmatians, and wolf hybrids.

Breed-specific legislation (BSL) is opposed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), the National Animal Control Association (NACA), and many other animal-welfare organizations.

Per the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), 73 municipalities across the United States have repealed their BSL. Some U.S. governors, including Florida’s Ron DeSantis and New York’s Kathy Hochul, have also taken steps to end breed discrimination for housing in their states.

A 2022 study found that 70 percent of participants opposed breed bans and supported education around breed-specific and animal behavior. Hopefully, more proposed legislation, like this Washington bill, will only help to increase awareness and spark further change.

Hilary Weaver

Hilary Weaver is the senior editor at The Wildest. She has previously been an editor at The Spruce Pets, ELLE, and The Cut. She was a staff writer at Vanity Fair from 2016 to 2019, and her work has been featured in Esquire, Refinery 29, BuzzFeed, Parade, and more. She lives with her herding pups, Georgie and Charlie.

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