Housing Policy

California Bill Banning Landlords' No-Dog Policies Is Anti-Choice and Anti-Urban

The market has created a lot of dog-free housing for a reason. A bill from Assemblymember Matt Haney would destroy it.


If you'd like to live in a building that isn't full of dogs howling at all hours of the night and urinating in the elevator, you might soon be out of luck in California.

Earlier this month, California Assemblymember Matt Haney (D–San Francisco) introduced a bill that would prohibit landlords from having blanket no-dogs-allowed policies.

The text of the introduced bill is still quite brief, saying only that "it is the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation related to a landlord's ability to prohibit common household pets in residential tenancies."

A news release published by Haney's office earlier this week adds a little more detail, saying that the legislation will "require landlords to have reasonable reason(s) for not allowing a pet in a rental unit and only allows landlords to ask about pet ownership after a tenant's application has been approved."

"I've heard from many constituents about the incredible hurdles and challenges they faced in finding homes simply because they own pets," Haney told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. "They've been repeatedly denied because they have a dog."

The assemblyman frames no-dog policies as just one more hardship facing California renters in a state with an insufficiency of housing. His news release says that 70 percent of renters are pet owners but only 30 percent of available rentals are pet-friendly.

Now, a greater supply of housing would give pet owners more options and incentivize landlords to be less choosy.

Haney, to his credit, does say that the state needs to build more homes. He also has a pretty decent track record of supporting zoning reforms aimed at housing supply in the Legislature.

Nevertheless, he pitches his pet ban ban bill as a necessary supplement to pro-supply policies, saying that "we won't be able to solve this crisis if 12 million people across the state are being denied access to that housing because they have a companion pet."

The fact that so many landlords prohibit pets when so many potential tenants have them should prompt some deeper reflection from the assemblyman. Suppliers, even in highly regulated markets, aren't typically in the business of turning away a huge pool of customers for the fun of it.

Landlords have reasons for having no-pet policies, including the potential that pets will damage their property. More importantly, pets impose costs on other renters; they can be dirty, they can be noisy, and they can even be dangerous.

By prohibiting pets, landlords aren't limiting the supply of housing. They're creating a supply of pet-free housing, for which there's a lot of demand.

Haney's bill therefore isn't a necessary supplement to pro-supply policies. It's not a second-best solution to a lack of housing supply. It's actively anti-supply and anti-choice.

It's also an anti-urban policy.

Dogs are not bad per se. Other Reason writers have even argued that they're good. But they are bad pets to have in the city.

They have the potential to cause nuisances, which, in dense urban areas, negatively impact more people. They also take up a lot of public space. No sidewalk is too wide for a dog owner and their leashed animal to stretch all the way across. City parks that could be enjoyed by everyone (and everyone has to pay for) are often turned into dog parks for the exclusive enjoyment of dog owners and their pets.

The more city space, public and private, we sacrifice to these beasts, the less interested people will be in living in the city generally.

In this way, the urbanist case against dogs is similar to the urbanist case against cars; both cause negative externalities and take up a lot of expensive public land without paying for it.

Unlike dogs, cars serve a countervailing urbanist purpose of connecting people to jobs and amenities across the wider metro area. Dogs serve no such function.

That doesn't mean there's not a time or place for them. It's just that that time and place is called the suburbs.

In Golden Gates, Conor Dougherty's book on the early YIMBY movement, he notes that post-war suburban sprawl resulted in a massive explosion in the country's dog population. As it turns out, large lots and owner-occupied housing make a much more amenable environment for dogs and dog ownership. The implication is that dense urban areas dominated by rental housing are not.

None of this, of course, means that dog ownership should be banned anywhere. But it does make dog ownership a poor candidate for public subsidy. That includes regulations that allow dog owners to force their way into private housing, where neither the owners nor the other renters want them.