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Dog owners face dearth of pet-friendly rentals in Boston: ‘Just give us a chance’

Renters have reported a shortfall of reasonably priced properties that will welcome certain pets

Isabel Lara with her daughter, Camille Cherubin, 7 months, outside her Hyde Park apartment. Lara surrendered her dog to the MSPCA in the spring because she was unable to find a property in the city that would accommodate both her family and dog.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

When South End resident Isabel Lara started a search for a new apartment for her family of five last year, she knew it’d be a tall order to find another place in Boston willing to house her dog, too.

What she didn’t expect was just how difficult it’d be.

As soon as some landlords saw her 1-year-old American pit bull terrier, Mr. Soxx, they became apprehensive. Others would hike up the rent hundreds of dollars beyond her budget.

“‘He’s a very dangerous dog,’” Lara, 37, a nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, recalls landlords saying. “‘We can’t accept that breed.’”

The truth is, she said, he was actually a “big baby” beloved by her three children.

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In the absence of affordable pet-friendly housing, Lara reluctantly surrendered Mr. Soxx to MSCPA-Angell in the spring when she found a Hyde Park apartment that prohibited her dog’s breed.

“[It was] either surrender him, or don’t and be homeless,” she said.

Lara’s experience isn’t unique. Nationwide, renters have reported a shortfall of reasonably priced properties that welcome certain pets.

One national survey by a pair of pet advocacy groups in 2021 found 72 percent of renters said pet-friendly housing was hard to find, and 59 percent said it was too expensive. Some respondents said they’ve surrendered a pet because of the housing issue.

In Boston, where residents already contend with rising rents and scarce vacancies, the problem takes on particular urgency for renters with pets.

For them, Sept. 1 — the city’s annually frenetic day of mass lease turnovers and moving — ushers in distinct anxieties, since many units forbid animal companions.

State Representative Samantha Montaño posed for a portrait with their dog, Romeo. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Boston Pads, a real estate website, shows that 80 percent of currently listed luxury buildings accept pets, while only around 23 percent of nonluxury buildings do, according to Demetrios Salpoglou, the company’s chief executive. Both figures rose as September approached, and landlords abandoned pet prohibitions to avoid vacancies, he said.

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Costly luxury apartments were all but out of the question for Jashvina Shah, a sports journalist moving to Boston with S’mores, her 3-year-old cavapoo — a cavalier King Charles spaniel-poodle mix.

Shah, 32, said she struggled to find an affordable place that would take them — a reality that surprised her, given S’mores’ smaller size. In some instances, buildings advertised an openness to pets, only for Shah to later learn that only meant cats.

“It was just very discouraging, and I was questioning whether or not I’d find a place,” she said.

While Shah ultimately landed a September lease for a pet-inclusive apartment in Boston, it wasn’t before combing through other faraway locations that were just as pet-averse.

“I was looking not just in the city, but literally everywhere that was on a T line,” Shah said. “It was hard.”

Unlike with service animals and emotional support animals, which are not considered pets under the law, landlords have “complete discretion” over which pets are allowed on their property, said Douglas Quattrochi, executive director of MassLandlords, an advocacy group for property owners.

Some building owners might bar pets over concerns of possible property damage or excessive noise. And to minimize their potential liability for a renter’s pet, they regularly impose blanket bans on certain animals, often larger dog breeds they believe are prone to aggression.

“Landlords don’t want to be called into a lawsuit,” Quattrochi said. “Occasionally, these large dogs bite or attack people. I know most of them are sweet and that’s why they’re pets, but the fear is real.”

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Even Boston’s public housing has dog-breed restrictions, excluding from its premises Doberman pinschers, pit bulls, Rottweilers, and “any mixed breed dog with identifiable characteristics specific to one of these breeds,” according to the housing authority’s pet policies.

Some argue, however, that disallowing dogs based on breed is discriminatory and misguided.

State Representative Samantha Montaño's dog, Romeo.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“There’s no definitive research saying any one breed is more aggressive than the other,” said state Representative Samantha Montaño, a Boston Democrat and lifelong pet owner, who two years ago had trouble locating an apartment in Jamaica Plain willing to house their dog at the time, a “docile” older pit bull.

Montaño said that personal experience was the impetus for cosponsoring a House bill to prevent some housing providers from prohibiting dogs because of their breed, weight, size, or appearance. The bill would also block homeowner’s and renter’s insurance companies from refusing or increasing the cost of coverage based on the breed — a practice that leads landlords to deny housing to dog owners, according to Montaño.

“We’re not trying to force anyone to take pets that they don’t want to take in their house,” Montaño said. “We’re just trying to create opportunities for people to stay housed and for that breed-restriction barrier to be not an issue anymore.”

Lara, the South End resident, believes a lack of education has promoted popular notions that some dog breeds are more inherently dangerous, propping up rules like those that targeted Mr. Soxx.

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“Just give us a chance,” she said. “All we need is just a chance to prove that the pet that we have [is] not as bad as they think it is.”

A few weeks ago, the MSPCA called Lara with good news: Mr. Soxx had been adopted by an “amazing family.” Her “big baby” was doing well.

“Hearing that he went to a loving home was amazing to me,” she said.

Still, Mr. Soxx’s adoption couldn’t undo his permanent absence from Lara’s household.

“My kids grew up with him,” she said. “Even though it’s been a couple of months now, they’re still asking, ‘Where’s Soxx?’ and ‘When can we have him back?’”

Before the surrender, Lara was never without an animal under her care. Now, though, the thought of once again becoming attached to a new pet is tempered by an accompanying specter of what a future move could look like.

“I can’t go through that again,” she said.

Isabel Lara (center) during lunch with her children (from left), Kairy Marcelin, 12, Camille Cherubin, 7 months, Cameron Cherubin, 3; and her husband, Ernso Chrubin, in their Hyde Park apartment. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Alex Koller can be reached at alex.koller@globe.com. Follow him @alexkoller_.