For many people, a dog is a much-loved member of the household. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), 38.4% of households have a canine companion.
But despite all that doggie love, there is breed-specific legislation (BSL) in some areas that seeks to ban a number of breeds that are considered dangerous. As a rental property owner, if you are leasing units to tenants who own dogs, it's important to determine whether your area has any breed restrictions in place.
What is breed-specific legislation?
Breed-specific legislation seeks to protect the public by limiting or regulating the ownership of what are deemed to be aggressive or dangerous dog breeds.
Dogs are considered aggressive or dangerous if their breeds are often represented in biting incidents. However, according to the AVMA, this high number could have to do with other factors, including the popularity of that type of dog in the area, reporting biases, and any evidence of the abusive treatment of the dog. The latter is why the American Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty (ASPCA) is such a vocal opponent of breed-specific legislation -- the animal rights organization believes that it is the poor treatment of dogs by their owners and not specific breeds that lead to aggressive canine confrontations.
Indeed, the prevalence and popularity of certain breeds could be a reason for the high number of incidents. For example, pit bulls top the list of aggressive breeds and are most often the target of breed-specific legislation. Pit bulls are popular in America; however "pit bull," is not a breed but rather a category of different breeds of dogs that include the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the American Bulldog.
Another example is the Siberian Husky. In Canada, this is a popular breed, and it also happens to be one that is often noted in aggressive (and sometimes fatal) attacks in that country.
There is BSL that restricts ownership of these breeds, as well as the Presa Canario, Cane Corso, Dogo Argentino, and other dogs in the pit bull-mastiff category. Additional breeds that have been noted in aggressive incidents include Dalmations, Chow Chows, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Collies, Saint Bernards, Collies, or dogs that are a mix of these breeds.
While the dogs listed here are typically large-size breeds, it's important to note that the size of a dog doesn't matter in terms of aggression. A Jack Russell terrier is considered a small dog, yet there are aggression incidents involving this and other small breeds. However, it's unlikely that the bite of a small dog will end in a fatality. Severe injuries and fatalities have happened in confrontations with larger dogs, so this is where the focus often is in breed-specific legislation.
Wolf-hybrid breeds are also the target of BSL. Part dog, part wolf, these animals are considered to be wild and unsafe for exposure to the public. Because of this, some states have restricted private ownership, including Alaska, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Maryland.
How to find out if your area has BSL
There are hundreds of municipalities across the country who have enacted some type of BSL. You could search the internet, but there is often biased information, both on the side of the dogs and the victims of aggression. To ensure you have the most up-to-date information on breed restrictions in your area, you should contact your local legislator's office to confirm any and all BSL mandates. Additionally, you could call a local veterinarian or dog adoption shelter for information and additional resources about dog ownership in your area.
Dog owners fight back
It should be noted that pro-animal organizations do not support BSL. In fact, the ASPCA calls them "breed-discriminatory" laws and argue that they aren't effective. The Centers for Disease Control has also opposed the laws because of limited or inaccurate data on dog bite incidents and the dog breeds involved, particularly in the case of mixed breeds.
In some states, like New York, there is even legislation that prohibits the discrimination of dog ownership based on their breed. This type of anti-discriminatory law might even exist in states where BSL is active in smaller communities.
Can landlords impose their own dog breed restrictions?
Landlords have a duty to uphold the safety and security of all tenants. As a result, they have the ability to restrict any dogs from living on the property or just those breeds that are considered dangerous. (The Fair Housing Act, however, must permit service animals on the premises for tenants with disabilities.)
It's important to note that while landlords have the right to set their own rules about dogs, they must abide by the local or state breed-specific legislation, if they exist. That means that even dog-loving landlords must impose restrictions on certain breeds if the local or state laws call for it.
The bottom line
"A dog is a human's best friend" is a common axiom -- except not every human agrees with this statement. As a property investor, do your due diligence to find out whether there are dog breed restrictions that will affect your tenants.