When you hear about breed discrimination, it is usually in the context of breed-specific legislation (BSL).  We discussed BSL in great detail in a past article. Some communities that previously enacted BSL are rescinding it in favor of laws mandating responsible pet ownership and breed-neutral dog laws that focus on the particular dog’s behavior rather than breed or perceived breed. One advocacy group reports that since 2018, at least 63 cities have repealed breed-specific ordinances or bans. Almost half of the states have either prohibited BSL or have prohibited the use of breed in the application of dangerous or vicious dog statutes.

Although BSL may be on the decline, in most states, owners of certain dog breeds face challenges when it comes to obtaining homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Many insurance companies charge higher rates or even refuse or cancel liability coverage if the homeowner or renter has or acquires a certain type of purebred or even mixed-breed dog.

An insurance policy is a contract, and restrictions on breed are either listed in the contract or incorporated into the contract by an attachment or reference to a third-party list. Among insurance companies that take breed into consideration, the breeds they restrict can vary widely. Homeowners or renters who live in a state with no restrictions on breed discrimination in insurance policies would be well advised to compare policies and look for an insurer who either does not discriminate based on breed or that does not restrict their dog’s breed.

As with the pushback against BSL, some states have enacted laws that prohibit insurance companies from discriminating based on the breed of dog a policyholder or applicant owns. On October 30, 2021, New York’s Governor signed a bill (S4254/A4075) that will go into effect in January 2022. The New York statute will prohibit insurance companies from refusing “to issue or renew, cancel, or charge or impose an increased premium or rate for [a homeowner’s policy] based solely upon harboring or owning any dog of a specific breed or mixture of breeds.” These prohibitions would not apply if the decision were “based upon the designation of a dog of any breed or mixture of breeds as a dangerous dog…based on sound underwriting and actuarial principles reasonably related to actual or anticipated loss experience.”

In June 2021, the Governor of Nevada signed a similar bill into law, which will also go into effect in January 2022. Nevada’s new law will apply to issuers of homeowner’s, renter’s, manufactured and mobile home, and umbrella policies.

In Michigan, the Department of Insurance and Financial Services (DIFS) regulates the financial services industry, including insurance. DIFS has issued a bulletin explaining that Michigan’s “Essential Insurance Act does not allow companies to deny, cancel, or non-renew coverage based on the insured’s possession of a particular animal.” According to the bulletin, Michigan law does allow an insurance company to decide not to renew a policy based on the insured’s claim experience with an animal during the three-year period before the renewal. DIFS also interpreted Michigan law as allowing “the imposition of surcharges based on dog breeds if the surcharge is actuarially supported” but stated that the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) “prohibits the imposition of a service charge for assistance animals.” The FHA defines assistance animals to include service and emotional support animals.

If you have questions or concerns about an insurance company, you may contact DIFS for assistance. We are going to keep working to improve animal welfare and serving as a voice for the animals through advocacy. Together, we can continue to make a difference in animals’ lives. Stay up to date with our advocacy efforts by signing up for our Legislative Action Network newsletter at michiganhumane.org/advocacy.

Photo credit: stiv xyz from Pexels

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