Opinion: Why California’s Housing Crisis Has Serious Consequences For Pets As Well As People

Husky at Chesterfield Square Animal Services in Los Angeles

A dog at the Chesterfield Square Animal Services Center in Los Angeles. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

By Brett Yates (Originally published in the LA Times)

Animal welfare advocates gathered in Sacramento recently to lobby for legislation to limit property owners’ ability to prohibit pets or charge monthly “pet rent.” Though the measure was weakened amid intense lobbying, it could mark an important victory for California’s pets and their parents’ housing security. It should serve as a model for legislation across the country.

Americans are in the midst of an affordable housing crisis that has magnified the burden on animal shelters nationwide. Many shelters reported record numbers of people surrendering pets because of housing pressures last year, an increase of 50% to 300% from 2022. This was exacerbated by a decrease in adoptions, which are also affected by housing shortages. More shelter intake means euthanasia rates are also spiking in some communities, making pet-inclusive housing literally lifesaving.

My colleagues and I at Michelson Found Animals have been closely monitoring the relationship between housing availability and animal shelter populations for years. We collaborated with the Human Animal Bond Research Institute to study the issue, which led to a report on the subject and our Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative.

We found a substantial disconnect between what is typically called “pet-friendly” and the actual needs of pet owners. To begin with, there is no set standard for pet-friendliness, an ambiguous term often accompanied by restrictive fine print. While 76% of the property owners and managers we surveyed considered themselves pet-friendly, only 8% did not impose restrictions on numbers of pets and characteristics such as breed and size.

With the housing crisis showing no signs of abating, we need pet-inclusive housing that really meets the needs of pet owners. Pet-inclusive housing is better not just for residents and their animals but also for business.

Demand for pet-inclusive housing is high, but supply is lacking. While 66% of U.S. households have at least one pet, we found that 72% of tenants said pet-friendly housing is hard to find and 59% said it’s too expensive.

This is a priority for pet owners. Although 21% of the renters we surveyed were willing to compromise on their budget for housing, only 9% were willing to compromise on pet-friendliness. Our research further suggests that animal-friendly housing is the future: Millennials and Gen-Zers are more likely both to rent and to have pets.

We found that pet-inclusivity also has clear benefits for rental housing operators: 83% said pet-inclusive vacancies were filled faster and that residents of such units stayed an average of 21% longer. Landlords who ignore this segment of their potential markets are hurting their businesses and communities.

When pets are not allowed, we found that 11% of renters will risk having them against the rules. Others will request accommodation for support animals even if they have not been diagnosed with an emotional or mental disability. Managing and investigating such requests requires valuable time and energy of property owners and their employees.

It’s a pervasive myth that pets in rental units are a significant liability. The truth is that less than 10% of pets cause damage, and when damage does occur, the average cost of repairs is $210, much less than the average security deposit.

Pets are in fact an asset to properties, and not just financially. They have been shown to improve the mental and physical health of their owners. Within rental communities in particular, residents reported that their pets brought them closer to their neighbors. And surveys show that residents who feel connected to their community are more likely to renew their leases.

Pets also make communities safer. Research has indicated that neighborhoods with high concentrations of dogs and high levels of trust among residents experienced less crime.

No wonder California lawmakers aren’t alone in considering pet-inclusive policies. Legislation in Congress would prohibit breed restrictions in public housing, which residents often face even though federally funded housing is required to be pet-friendly. And Colorado last year enacted a measure limiting pet deposits and pet rent and prohibiting insurance companies from penalizing homeowners based on pet breed.

Landlords who see these changes on the horizon and the business opportunities they present can take a few easy steps toward pet-inclusivity:

  • Consider eliminating unnecessary pet deposits and fees.
  • Focus on the behavior of individual dogs rather than size or breed.
  • Work with an insurance company that doesn’t have pet-related restrictions.
  • Require proof of rental insurance, which can cover pet-related claims.
  • Provide pet amenities such as exercise and relief areas along with waste stations, which show renters that their pets are welcome.

Most people who have pets regard them as family. Pet-inclusive housing ensures families stay together and have safe places to live.

Brett Yates is the chief executive officer of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Michelson Found Animals Foundation.

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May 31, 2024 | Michelson Found Animals, News