COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A bipartisan duo of lawmakers is hoping to alleviate the housing crisis by targeting a major cost for many renters: their cats and dogs.

House Bill 277 would create a tax credit for landlords who allow companion animals – defined as cats or dogs – in units without added security deposits or fees. For up to 10 units, landlords could earn $750 per unit, reflecting the average additional cost for pet-friendly units, sponsor Rep. Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland) said last week.

Both Brent and fellow sponsor Rep. Sharon Ray (R-Wadsworth) said they brought forth the bill, in part, because of their love for their own companion animals who died within the past year.

“If people can agree on anything here in the Statehouse, we love our children and we love our pets,” Brent said.

HB 277 would not require landlords to offer pet-friendly units or abandon their additional fees or “pet rents,” a point both lawmakers emphasized to the House Ways and Means committee. Rather, the tax credit is meant to be an incentive for landlords to accommodate pet owners and ease the burden on renters in the process.

Amid inflation and a growing housing crisis, Brent acknowledged that more Ohioans are unable to afford to buy homes. In her own district, she said, nearly 70% of the East Cleveland population rents.

Increased housing costs intersect with increased strain on animal shelters, said Sharon Harvey, president and CEO of the Cleveland Animal Protective League and officer of the Ohio Animal Welfare Federation. Both animal welfare organizations brought forward the legislation to combat what she said is a trend of pet owners surrendering their animals due to housing issues.

As of September, more than 100 pets have been surrendered to the Cleveland Animal Protective League solely because of issues securing housing this year, while another 150 were surrendered due to owners having to move. It’s hard to get good data on the prevalence, Harvey noted – many people are afraid or ashamed to disclose their reasons for surrendering an animal.

“Families turn to animal shelters and are forced to make an often devastating and heartbreaking decision to surrender a pet,” Harvey said in an interview. “In a humane society, people shouldn’t be pushed to choose between housing and keeping their animals.”

While the bill has received neither proponent nor opponent testimony yet, some members of the House Ways and Means committee – several being former or current landlords and tenants alike – wondered about how the requirements for the tax credit would impact rental property owners. Landlords seeking the credit would not be allowed to impose breed or size restrictions, although they could limit animals other than dogs or cats.

Rep. Angie King (R-Celina), who said she owns several rental properties, asked whether a ban on breed restrictions might run up against landlords’ property insurance that requires such limits. It’s another wrinkle to be smoothed out in committee, Brent said.

The Ohio Real Estate Investors Association did not respond to a request for comment, but on its website notes that “concerns with the bill include the prohibition on breed and size restrictions. The association is currently seeking input from landlords on HB 277.

Harvey said restrictions on breed and size are arbitrary barriers to housing for people with pets – and landlords seeing the credit would still be able to prohibit dogs classified by law as “dangerous” or “vicious,” meaning they’ve killed or seriously injured another dog or person. She reiterated what Brent and Ray said during the committee hearing: Landlords who don’t want to follow the tax credit requirements can simply choose not to apply for the tax credit.

“This really is about recognizing the importance of pets in the family,” Harvey said. “People facing hard times need their pets more than ever.”