Can pit bull owners get home insurance?

Terri Huggins

They may be considered man's best friend, but to an insurance agent or landlord, your pet - particularly if it's a pit bull terrier - may be considered an enemy. This can make it difficult for you to get adequate insurance coverage, or even find a place to live.

Pit  bull insuranceWhile you may see a cute and cuddly friend when looking at your pit bull, insurers see potential liability and lawsuits. In 2012, State Farm had 3,670 dog bite claims - and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than half of all dog bite victims are children. Between 2005 and 2012, pit bulls were responsible for 151 deaths - 60 percent of dog attack deaths over all.

Despite, the negative connotation regarding the breed, all hope isn't lost when it comes to insurance. Here are six things you need to know about acquiring homeowner's or renter's insurance when a beloved family member happens to be deemed a dangerous breed.

Home insurance for pit bull owners

1. You have a "dangerous breed".

When it comes to dogs classified as a "dangerous breed" according to insurance company policies, insurance carriers believe it's a matter of ‘when' that dog will attack, not "if", says Howard Bergstein, president of independent insurance agency, Erich Courant & Co. "Many companies see pit bulls as a risk regardless of past behavior. They see dog bites as likely to happen."

Insurance companies label many breeds as dangerous due to their tendency to bite. Dog bite claims can be costly for insurance companies due to the medical costs, settlement size, and corresponding payouts. According to David Bakke, insurance expert for personal finance website Money Crashers, State Farm paid more than $1 million in claims regarding dog bites in 2011.

2. Coverage may vary by state.

While some companies such as State Farm and Allstate extend coverage to pit bulls, availability may vary by state and regulations. Depending on state laws, likelihood of lawsuits, and amount of claims regarding the breed, some companies may be reluctant to cover your dog. For example, Farmers recently announced the decision to end coverage for bites from pit bulls, Rottweilers, and wolf hybrids in California, as these three breeds accounted for 25 percent of dog bite claims.

3. The owner matters more than you think.

When it comes to purchasing home insurance, dog owner responsibilities are also important. Dori Einhorn, owner of Einhorn Insurance in California, says she only provides coverage to responsible pit bull owners, and cites irresponsible owners as the reason why dogs have aggressive tendencies. When coverage is under consideration, the dog's owner must answer a series of questions, both over the phone and in writing, regarding the dog's personality and how the owner cares for the dog.

"We won't provide coverage to an irresponsible owner," Einhorn says. Irresponsible owner behavior can include keeping dogs chained up all the time, not properly disciplining their dog, or refusal to set house rules.

4. The more coverage, the better.

According to the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute, in 2011 the average claim for dog bites was around $29,396.

However, Scott Diamond, partner at law firm Sacks Weston Petrelli Diamond and Millstein recommends liability coverage of at least $100,000.

"You need to have enough to cover your assets," Diamond says. If a claim exceeds the coverage limit, the pit bull owner will be responsible for paying the remaining amount. "I've had lawsuits where people ended up having to file for bankruptcy to protect their house in a dog liability case. Anything can happen."

The increased coverage is also beneficial to those living in apartments or crowded areas. "When the dog is exposed to more people, the minimum amount of necessary coverage increases. It has everything to do about exposure and not about the owner," Bergstein says.

5. Emotional support may help your cause.

If you have a disability or mental or physical ailment, you can register your dog as a service dog, Einhorn says. Some qualified disabilities and mental problems as listed by the National Service Animal Registry include stress problems, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, depression, paralysis, separation anxiety and more.

The Fairhouse Amendments Act of 1988 states that owners with visible or invisible disabilities are allowed to keep registered emotional support dogs or service dogs even if landlords specifically prohibit the breed. Furthermore, the law prohibits landlords for asking any questions regarding the pet owner's disability.

6. Everything may not be covered.

Once you're able to obtain a home insurance policy, the last thing you want is to find out certain situations aren't covered until it's too late. Read the policy wording thoroughly, and if necessary, consult your insurance agent on any details that you're uncertain about. If you're still wary of the terms of your homeowner's or renter's policy, consider purchasing an umbrella insurance policy which will cover lawsuits or injuries sustained in your home that exceed a basic policy's coverage. The average cost of an umbrella policy is about $150 to $300 per year according to the Insurance Information Institute.

See how much you could save today on your home insurance. Get your free home insurance quotes today!