Pets are family. And they should be treated as such. If HB 1391 becomes law, they will be in New Hampshire as it becomes the first state in the nation to ban housing discrimination against people whose families include dogs, cats, and other animal companions.

Based on model legislation by the No Kill Advocacy Center, my organization, the precedent-setting bill by Representative Ellen Read addresses one of the most pervasive challenges faced by renters whose family includes an animal: lack of pet-friendly housing.

Seventy-three million Americans share their homes with 175 million dogs and cats. We talk to them, sleep next to them, keep their photos on our cell phones, vacation with them, take time off from work to care for them when they are sick, and when it is time to say good-bye, we grieve. For the vast majority of people, the bond they share with animal companions is a familial one, born of love and mutual affection. And yet, studies show that roughly 20% of relinquishment to shelters involves housing issues and the problem is getting worse. People should not have to choose between losing a family member or losing a home.

In addition to protecting families, the law also protects landlords, with reasonable restrictions and a pet deposit. A study of landlords who allow companion animals shows that concerns about damage are often exaggerated and easily addressed, as they are in the bill. Studies also show that such policies are likewise popular with tenants who do not have animals or don’t necessarily want one of their own. As a result, landlords will have happier tenants, longer-term tenants, and fewer vacancies.

There are other benefits, including to animal shelters, the local and state economy, and on public health:

  • Ensuring fair housing opportunities would help end killing of animals in shelters as more animals find homes by removing a major disincentive to animal companionship.
  • Animal companions not only improve cardiovascular health and reduce feelings of loneliness, but a University of Denver study found broader impacts on public health and social cohesion, including increased civic engagement and “perceptions of neighborhood friendliness.”
  • As the majority of people (81%) see their animal companions as “surrogate children,” they are willing to spend whatever it takes to keep them comfortable. Americans spent over $70 billion on their animals companions last year, making it the seventh largest sector of the retail economy and growing 50% faster than the overall retail economy.

Finally, 65% of households have an animal companion, a rate that is expected to grow if laws like this are passed. As such, a law prohibiting housing discrimination against those with animal companions is good public policy, would have bipartisan appeal, and would be popular with voters.

The bill is in keeping with other changes in law regarding animals. A New Hampshire bill, which was signed into law last year, “address[es] the care and ownership of the [divorcing] parties’ animals, taking into consideration the animals’ wellbeing.” Moreover, current U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development laws prohibit landlords in federally-subsidized housing from discriminating against residents with a pet. HB 1391 would expand on those rules.

If you live in New Hampshire, now is the time to make your voice heard. The bill is scheduled in front of the Judiciary Committee on January 15. Please contact members of the Committee and urge them to vote Yes on HB 1391. Please also contact your state legislators and urge them to cosponsor HB 1391.

If you live in another state, a copy of the model law is here and a guide to passing legislation can be found here.

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