A pet-friendly apartment community can mean different things due to marketing so author John Bradford explains what a truly pet-friendly apartment community looks like.
The term “pet-friendly” is often used as a marketing chip in the rental-housing world, but simply allowing pets at a property no longer qualifies as being genuinely pet-friendly.
That’s because many restrictions often accompany an apartment community’s pet policies, such as a breed, weight, number of pets and even age, as some deny puppies and kittens. So if you’re a prospective resident and the community you’re considering as your next place to live allows some pets—but not yours—it doesn’t come across as exceedingly pet-friendly.
Communities with rigid policies are not only falling behind from the standpoint of appearing attractive to pet-owning residents, but also leaving an abundance of potential revenue on the table. Data supports the ideas that shedding restrictions might not be as off-putting to residents or difficult to implement as one might initially surmise, and that increasing pet-related amenities might not be a bank-breaker.
What does a truly pet-friendly apartment community look like in the modern apartment landscape? Here are a few of the ways operators have shed antiquated policies and shifted their overall approaches to be more pet-centric:
Weight and breed restrictions have long been standard in the industry. However, innovative operators are beginning to rethink them as they take measures to cater to the ever-increasing pet-owning demographic, which is edging toward 70 percent of residents, according to several sources.
Weight restriction is an easy one to shed, as no data supports that larger pets cause any more damage than smaller pets. In fact, starting in 2019, many apartment operators began to rescind the standard 45- to 50-pound weight limit.
Breed restrictions, naturally, are a touchier topic. Most often, property teams fear that they will alienate residents by rescinding these restrictions. But according to the Pet Policies and Amenities Survey by PetScreening and J Turner Research, a minority of residents actively support them. In fact, 53 percent of residents are against breed restrictions, and 23 percent are indifferent (“don’t care”), leaving only 24 percent of residents who are in favor of breed restrictions. When the same question was asked but for weight restrictions, residents answered along similar lines — 56 percent of residents are against them, and 24 percent are indifferent, while only 20 percent support them.
Insurance concerns are another reason that communities often balk at easing or eliminating breed restrictions. But more and more cases are occurring in which operators are discovering that their property-insurance providers do not require breed restrictions to be in place onsite. This can easily be confirmed by reviewing the actual policy and, if the provider does indeed have breed restrictions, operators then can try shopping for new policy providers that do not.
To be clear, communities should not be advised to haphazardly eliminate restrictions and simply see what happens. Restrictions should be eased with a measured approach, and properties should screen pets and pet owners on an individual basis to determine where they rank on a risk threshold. Then teams can make a determination based on the individual case rather than any preexisting characteristics.
Puppies, for example, naturally have a higher level of household risk due to chewing issues and potty-training. This, though, doesn’t mean you will deny a puppy, but it’s reasonable to simply cover your additional risk with slightly higher pet fees or pet rent.
While conventional wisdom would suggest that adding a slew of pet amenities to a rental property would be a large—and exceedingly expensive—undertaking, that’s not necessarily the case.
When asked which three pet amenities were most important to them, survey respondents cited an onsite pet park (65 percent), pet-waste stations (64 percent) and an outdoor dog run (45 percent). These were higher priorities to pet owners than more expensive amenities, such as a pet pool, pet spa or onsite pet concierge.
While an onsite pet park could equate to a sizable expense depending on how expansive it is, residents mostly want a shaded space for pets to roam freely. Anything else contained within the park is a bonus. As such, many communities have converted existing outdoor space into onsite pet parks or dog runs.
The desire for simple amenities also helps appease the primary concerns of non-pet owners, who cited pet waste (84 percent), barking (62 percent) and off-leash activity (37 percent) as their top three pet-related apprehensions. Stocked pet-waste stations encourage pet owners to be responsible and pick up after their pets, and pet parks and dog runs give pets an exercise outlet, solving many of the barking and off-leash issues.
We’ve outlined the cases for easing restrictions and adding cost-friendly amenities, but many property teams wonder how this can boost the bottom line. On a wide-scale basis, this helps make communities more attractive to a larger demographic of potential renters—a certain segment of pet owners who might not have considered the community otherwise.
It also keeps existing residents in the building. According to the survey, pet owners ranked pet amenities 7.3 out of 10 on the importance scale when considering whether to rent or renew at a community.
Then there are the increased pet-related revenue streams. By easing pet-related restrictions, more pets are permitted at the community, which leads to an uptick in pet rent. Eased restrictions also make it less likely that a resident will try to sneak a pet into the community under the guise of a reasonable-accommodation request for a service or support animal like an ESA. Operators can’t charge pet rent or other pet fees for service or support animals.
The days of rental communities allowing one pet that weighs less than 50-pounds and restricting 20 different breeds are becoming a thing of the past.
While we’ve outlined the cases for easing weight and breed restrictions, communities should also consider increasing the number of pets allowed per home. Not drastic changes—no one wants 15 pets in a single household—but perhaps increasing from one pet allowed to two, or even welcoming both cats and dogs.
Apartment community teams should also consider ways to get a more accurate count of their pet population, to make certain all pets are accounted for and ensure they are not losing out on rightful pet revenue. Screening methods that require all residents—pet owning or otherwise—to formally acknowledge a community’s policies also are becoming more popular, ensuring every resident is aware of policies whether they own, acquire, foster or host a visiting pet.
Contrary to some perceptions, an increase in pet friendliness doesn’t have to be accompanied with a hit to the revenue stream. When done correctly, it can carry the three-fold benefit of increasing resident satisfaction, ensuring occupancy and having a positive impact to the bottom line.
About the author:
John R. Bradford, III, is an experienced entrepreneur and CEO with a demonstrated history of working in the property management and pet-tech industry as well as in local and state government. He is the founder of two companies: Park Avenue Properties and PetScreening. John is a strong business development professional skilled in the rental housing management industry, technology startup space, legislative affairs and legal compliance and review. He is serving a third term in the NC House of Representatives. In his spare time he likes to fish, camp and travel with his family.