CINCINNATI — For renters, it can be hard enough to find a safe, affordable apartment for one, but add a pet to that mix and the pickings are often slimmer and pricier.

As one of the largest providers of affordable housing units in Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing found that residents were either hiding animals, surrendering their pets or paying more than they could afford, or turning down a place to live because they weren’t willing to give up their pets. Now, anyone in an OTRCH unit can have a pet.

What You Need To Know

  • OTRCH is allowing pets in all of its units with registration

  • 72% of renters say pet-friendly housing is hard to find

  • 24% say they had to move due to their pet

  • OTRCH heard residents describe hiding animals, surrendering pets, or choosing to pay more than they could afford to stay together

The nonprofit came to the decision to make all of its 420 units pet-friendly in February, with Lauren Stoll, the resident services advocate, leading the charge.

“Our city has a really major shortage of affordable housing and pet-inclusive affordable housing is even harder to come by,” she said. “It felt like the right thing to do as far as removing barriers to housing.”

According to a study by the Michaelson Found Animals Foundation, 72% of residents across the country report pet-friendly housing is hard to find and a quarter of respondents say their pet has been a reason for needing to move. 

Talking to residents in Cincinnati and the county’s animal rescue center, Stoll said she’s seen the impact on a local level.

“They cite lack of pet inclusive affordable housing as one of if not the primary reason for surrenders to the shelter,” she said.

In fact, the lack of pet-friendly housing is one of the main reasons Prince found his way to his owner Deshawn Benton. The OTRCH housing resident says his sister wasn’t going to be able the keep the Yorkshire Terrier.

“She was getting ready to move, and they said she couldn’t have pets where she lived at,” he said. “And I was like bring him over here and I’ll watch him at least until you decide what you’re going to do.”

It didn’t take long for Benton to fall in love. Not only was Prince a great companion, but Benton, partially deaf, said his barks were a great way to help alert him to people at the door or anyone coming by his place.

“I couldn’t have it no other way,” he said.

Still, Benton felt the financial pressure of owning a dog. As a renter, he might be able to find a place he could afford, but tacking on fees and upcharges put a lot of places out of his price range.

“Some companies they’ll charge you like $100 a month just to have a pet on your lease,” he said.

He said he was happy to find a place with OTRCH but it wasn’t until they announced their pet policy that Benton could breathe a sigh of relief. Prince was one of the first animals registered under the new policy.

“I would probably have had to find somewhere else for him to go and I would really hate to do that,” he said.

Stoll said OTRCH is working to get pets who may have already been in units registered over the next month or so, offering a grace period with no questions asked and a waived pet fee. Afterwards, she said they’ll ask for a small, one-time pet fee.

The nonprofit is also working with UCAN, Cincinnati’s nonprofit pet care clinic, to provide free spay and neuter services and basic veterinary care to residents that need it. 

“We don’t believe that the type of housing someone lives in should determine whether or not they get to have their pet with them,” she said.

While Stoll acknowledges there is an additional risk to having animals in units, she believes with upfront knowledge of the pets and cooperation with residents, benefits will outweigh the cost.

“I can’t say it’s for every landlord,” she said. “But at the end of the day, that didn’t feel like a good enough reason not to allow our residents to have pets.”