As an owner of a slightly blocky-headed, smooth-coated dog, I’ve heard a myriad of reasons why the so-called “pet-friendly” housing I’ve applied to won’t accept my dog. When confronted, the property owners and managers who enforce arbitrary pet restrictions often tell me that it’s “just the rules” or blame their insurance policy, stating it won’t cover them if they allow certain animals to reside on their property.
These restrictive policies may seem harmless to property managers and insurance professionals—those who rarely, or never, interact with the families forced to separate from their beloved companions—but the consequences are heartbreakingly real: Breed bans and restrictions remain some of the most frequently cited reasons for pet relinquishment. They contribute to housing insecurity, create barriers for families with pets, and unnecessarily use up the finite resources of local animal shelters and rescues.
To end breed discrimination in housing and public policy, we also need to tackle it in the insurance industry. And we’re starting to see real progress on this front.
To end breed discrimination in housing and public policy, we also need to tackle it in the insurance industry.
One recent victory came in June, when Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed S.B. 103. Under the new law, insurers can no longer cancel, refuse to issue or renew a policy, or increase the premium or rate for homeowners policies based solely on the assumed breed of the homeowner's dog. (The law allows for exemptions for dogs who have a clear history of dangerous behavior or who have been declared dangerous or vicious by the state.)
Another win occurred in early August when Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed S.B. 1672 into law, requiring insurance companies that offer homeowners or renters liability policies to collect certain information on dog-related claims (including whether they involve a bite or are due to another incident, such as a person tripping over a dog) for a two-year period. A similar law in Massachusetts has produced data that’s trending how we predicted: Breed isn’t a good indicator of behavior, and bites aren’t as common as the insurance industry has historically implied.
Currently, Nevada and Pennsylvania have laws that ban breed discrimination in homeowners insurance policies, and similar legislation is awaiting the governor’s signature in New York. Michigan, Vermont and Connecticut have also taken steps to protect dog owners from breed discrimination, while data collection requirements in Massachusetts and Illinois will help pave the way to similar protections.
We’re moving in the right direction, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. In most states, it’s legal for insurance companies to refuse or limit coverage based not on evidence that an insured’s dog is dangerous or that certain breeds are riskier than others, but on speculation and assumptions regarding the dog’s breed.
Instead of using actuarial data and other metrics the industry typically uses to measure risk, many 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.
Numerous recent studies have proven that breed isn’t indicative of a dog’s personality and that breed-specific regulations aren’t a reliable way to ensure community safety. Some insurance companies, such as State Farm, recognize this and don’t discriminate based on breed. But not everyone can choose their insurance carrier, particularly those who rent or who live in common-interest communities (such as homeowners associations, retirement communities or other housing developments comprised of individually owned units). And people with limited means may not have the flexibility to choose a carrier that doesn’t consider a dog’s breed in its underwritings.
Numerous recent studies have proven that breed isn’t indicative of a dog’s personality and that breed-specific regulations aren’t a reliable way to ensure community safety.
If you’ve been denied insurance coverage, faced increased premiums or been forced to give up your family pet because of insurance-related issues, I encourage you to visit the Dogs, People, and Housing Insurance Project website where you can file a complaint with your state insurance commissioner and find tips and sample language for telling the commissioner about your experience. If you’re in the animal welfare field, you can share how breed discrimination in the insurance industry affects your organization.
If you live in New York, please also urge Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign A. 4075/S. 4254, which would ban insurance companies from denying homeowners coverage to families based solely on the breed of their dog.
Let’s help keep families together and reduce the burden on our field by showing the impact of these outdated and senseless rules.