Lifting pet and breed restrictions and welcoming more pets can lead to higher tenant retention rates, an increase in pet-related revenue and building stronger communities.
By Judy Bellack
Michelson Found Animals
Lifting breed and weight restrictions for our four-legged friends and generally becoming more pet-inclusive can create significant financial gain for multifamily communities, such as increased NOI and higher resident-retention rates.
However, opening your doors to more pets requires planning in order to manage a larger pet population, and rental-housing operators may need to make an investment in pet-focused amenities, services and events to best accommodate their pet residents. But don’t fret – even with these steps, the financial benefits of happier, longer-tenured residents have been shown to far outweigh the costs, since pet-friendliness not only means an increase in pet-related revenue but also helps mitigate the costs associated with bringing in new residents.
Below are a few steps apartment communities should consider in conjunction with lifting or easing breed and weight restrictions.
Establish clear pet policies and communicate to owners
While most communities already have some form of pet policies in place, broadening your pet community may necessitate adjustments. Establishing comprehensive guidelines as well as onboarding third-party resources to manage more pets responsibly are a few things to consider.
All of a community’s policies, along with any rent or fees associated with pets, should be clearly spelled out in the resident’s lease. Even better is a separate pet lease or contract that provides all the pertinent information and is easy for the resident to understand and access. Documentation, guidelines, rules and expectations should be easy to locate electronically and posted throughout the community.
Provide tools and amenities for responsible pet ownership
Some pet tools and amenities – such as pet-waste stations – may be deployed immediately when additional pets are on site, while others can be rolled out over time depending on resident preferences. While it’s not required to provide all of the items below, implementing as many as possible will increase the chances of success by mitigating a community’s risk and increasing resident responsibility. Certain amenities, such as dog parks, also give residents and their pets the chance to meet and bond, boosting the connection residents feel with their property and increasing the chances they will renew their lease.
Here are some amenities and services that result in well-managed pet populations and responsible pet owners:
- Pet-waste stations: This is a feature that would be considered a must-have for any community with pets. Not only does it encourage responsible behavior, but it also helps to reduce risk. Pet waste is detrimental to the health of your community, and its presence can have consequences on resident retention and curb appeal.
- Dog parks or runs: According to a 2021 study from Michelson Found Animals Foundation and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), fewer than 10 percent of animals cause any damage to units, but a bored pet is more likely to exhibit destructive behavior. Dogs need to be active, so providing them with a convenient place for exercise can further reduce the risk of property damage. Parks are one of the primary areas where the pet community will bond. Creating this space should not be cost-prohibitive, and is sometimes as simple as repurposing a seldom-used area.
- Dog-washing stations or services: Washing a pet in a home can be a hassle, especially for medium- to large-size dogs, and not everyone can afford or wants to use a grooming service. This amenity can be a factor for anyone considering a renewal. If an installation is not an option, consider partnering with a mobile service that provides self-washing or grooming for your residents’ pets.
- Dog-training services: During the pandemic, many residents became first-time pet owners. Pet parents don’t become experts overnight, and improperly trained pets can increase risk. Providing dog-training resources and services gives an opportunity to pet owners to become the best stewards they can be.
- Pet background checks: Third-party services are available to screen prospective pets, making sure that no incidents have occurred that might indicate potential future risk to residents or other pets. These services allow for onsite teams to feel confident that the pets in their community will be an asset and not a liability.
- DNA analysis of pet waste: Even in a community with ample waste stations, there’s a chance that some pet owners won’t pick up after their dogs. Communities can request residents submit a sample of their pet’s DNA, which can be submitted to a service that uses the sample to identify any culprits of unattended waste. Communities can implement penalties to discourage future incidents and help offset costs.
- Pet events: This is another opportunity for pet owners and pets to gather and meet each other, as well as a chance for non-pet owners to meet the furry residents of a community. Not all people are in a position to own a pet, so this is an avenue for them to experience the joy that pets bring. These can be handled by onsite teams if staffing permits, or communities can turn to third-party services that will handle set-up and promotion.
- Pet adoption: There are millions of dogs and cats nationwide that are looking for good homes. Communities can do their part to reduce this problem by offering to connect residents with pet-adoption services.
- A pet concierge: Third-party services that manage pet events may also offer concierge services that can provide information on local veterinary services, pet services and pet policies in a community.
Prepare your residents for the upcoming changes
After completing the preparation work, current residents will need to be informed of any upcoming changes in breed and weight restrictions. To help this go smoother, it’s important to point out to residents the positives to the community that will result. Highlight how the removal of restrictions will strengthen the community and share all the steps being taken to help this be a wonderful experience for all residents.
Notices should include office contact information for any residents to ask questions and express concerns. Community managers should educate their leasing teams on all preparations, as well as information that will help answer any questions and dispel misinformation surrounding pets and breeds. Recent studies, including a recent study Science.org, have shown that pet breed has very little influence on behavior, which is primarily guided by owners and training.
This information can alleviate fears or concerns that other residents may have. Plus, it’s a chance to share with non-pet owners how to be courteous and safe around pets on the property, such as the best way to approach a dog.
Build resident and community connections
Having more pets in residential communities can be a great way to create ties between residents and onsite teams. Pet amenities provide the opportunity to interact and get better acquainted with staff. The opportunity to reward outstanding and responsible pet ownership is an excellent way to send a message of appreciation to residents, and also to set an example for all pet owners and foster retention. There are a variety of options for rental housing operators to reward responsible pet owners when renewing, including reduced pet rent, the forgiveness of two to three months of pet rent, discounts or gift cards to local pet businesses and pet-centric gift baskets.
As an added bonus, offering referrals and discounted pet services can build neighborhood connections that increase retention and build a strong sense of community. Local businesses are usually happy to offer discounts to residents in exchange for the exposure and potential future business.
In the end, an increased acceptance of pets can be a boon to net operating income, open a community to a wider pool of applicants and help increase the possibility that residents will stay. However, the path to success in this endeavor includes planning, preparing and executing in a way that maximizes the benefits and the investment.
About the author:
Judy Bellack is the industry principal for the non-profit Michelson Found Animals Foundation, helping to advance the Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative. She is a 30-year veteran of the multifamily industry, holding various executive leadership positions with some of the foremost supplier companies. Judy has served both as Chair of NAA’s National Suppliers’ Council and NMHC’s Supplier-Partner Alliance and was the recipient of NAA’s Outstanding Supplier in 2010. She currently operates a consulting practice advising start-up technologies in the multifamily space.