Building Stronger Communities by Welcoming More Pets – Thoughtfully and Responsibly
Written by Judy Bellack, Industry Principal, Pet-Inclusive Housing, 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. Increased NOI higher resident retention rates, lower turn and vacancy loss costs are just a few of the benefits.
However, opening your doors to more pets requires planning in order to manage a larger pet population. 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. Pet-friendliness not only means an increase in pet-related revenue, but also helps mitigate 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 spelled out in the resident’s lease. Even better is a separate pet lease or contract that is easy for the resident to understand and access. Documentation, guidelines, rules and expectations should be available 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. Other tools may be rolled out over time depending on renter preferences. Implementing as many pet-centric amenities help to mitigate risk and increase 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 increases the likelihood of lease renewal.
Here are some amenities and services that result in well-managed pet populations and responsible pet owners:
Pet-waste stations: This is one 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 not only is detrimental to the health of your community; 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% of animals cause any damage to units. However, a bored pet may become a destructive pet. Dogs need to be active, so providing them with a convenient place for exercise is a smart option. 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. 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 first time pet owners acquired pets. 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, providing insight into future risk to residents or other pets. These services allow onsite teams to feel confident that the pets in their community will be an asset, not a liability.
Waste DNA analysis: 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 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. Not all renters are in a position to own a pet, so this is also an avenue for them to enjoy their neighbors’ pets. Onsite teams may organize these fun events, or utilize third-party providers.
Pet adoption: There are millions of dogs and cats nationwide that are looking for a good home. Communities can do their part to reduce this problem by offering to connect residents with pet adoption services.
Pet concierge: Third-party services that manage pet events may also offer concierge services. Information on community pet policies, local veterinary and other services may be identified quickly via a pet concierge.
Prepare your residents for the upcoming changes
After completing the preparation work, current residents will need to be informed of the 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.
Notices should include property management 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 appearing in Science.org, have shown that pet breed has very little influence on behavior. Rather, behavior is guided primarily 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.
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 show appreciation to residents, and model ideal behaviors. This could include reducing 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 build a strong sense of community. Local businesses are usually happy to offer discounts to residents in exchange for exposure and potential future business.
In the end, an increased acceptance of pets is good for business. The path to success in this endeavor includes planning, preparing, and executing in a way that maximizes the benefits and the investment in building strong communities.