By Judy Bellack, Industry Principal, The Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative
Given the huge uptick in U.S. households with pets – from 56% in 1988 to 70% in 2022 – savvy rental housing operators will be taking steps to capture potential renters who have or would like to adopt a pet. Welcoming more of these cherished family members will involve reevaluating current restrictive pet policies, which typically limit size and contain multiple breed restrictions. Easing or lifting these restrictions can be beneficial for apartment operators in several ways:
- Increased demand: Allowing residents to have pets can increase demand for rental units. Many renters are pet owners, and they are often willing to compromise on other criteria (like location, bedrooms or even budget) for a unit that allows pets. By lifting size and breed restrictions, apartment operators can tap into a larger pool of potential residents.
- Longer leases and NOI lift: Residents with pets tend to stay longer in their rental units. This is because it can be difficult for pet owners to find apartments that allow pets, so once they find a pet-friendly unit, they are more likely to stay for an extended period. Longer leases can help apartment operators reduce turnover and vacancy rates, driving more dollars to the bottom line. A recent case study cites retention among pet owners at 80% – far above the rental housing industry average of 50%.
- Data-relevant decisions: There is very little data to support that a dog’s breed dictates its behavior; both the American Bar Association and the CDC do not support “aggressive breed” lists, looking rather to other factors that may contribute to incidents in individual dogs; and making assessments based on those individuals rather than a breed group.
- Improved reputation: Allowing pets in apartments can improve an apartment community’s reputation. Pet owners are a loyal demographic, and they are more likely to recommend pet-friendly communities to other pet owners. This can help apartment operators attract new residents and retain current ones. Additionally, responsible pet owners tend to be responsible residents.
- Reduced liability: By lifting size and breed restrictions, apartment operators can reduce their liability. When a complex bans certain breeds or sizes of pets, they may be held liable if a resident is attacked by a pet that was allowed in despite the ban. By allowing all pets, apartment operators can shift liability to the pet owner. There is also evidence suggesting that lifting breed restrictions eases the number of fraudulent ESA accommodation requests.
Lifting breed and size restrictions can be a complex process, but here are some steps rental housing operators can take to do it successfully:
- Communicate with current residents: Before changing policies, rental housing operators should communicate with current residents to make them aware. They should explain the reasons for the changes and how they plan to enforce any new policies. Operators should also provide residents with an opportunity to voice their concerns and ask questions.
- Update policies and lease agreements: Rental housing operators should update their policies and lease agreements to reflect all changes. They should clearly define what types of pets are allowed and any rules or restrictions associated with having a pet in the rental unit. It’s also a good idea to include any actions that may be taken when there is a lack of compliance.
- Provide resources for pet owners: Rental housing operators should provide resources for pet owners, such as a list of local veterinarians or pet stores, as well as information on local parks and pet-friendly establishments. They should also provide information on responsible pet ownership, including local leash laws and waste disposal. Operators may also want to evaluate on-site pet spaces and amenities – such as an off-leash area or pet events – to enhance the experience and help pet owners connect.
- Train staff: Rental housing operators should train their staff on how to handle pet-related issues, such as noise complaints or pet-related damage. Staff should also be trained on how to communicate with residents about pet policies and how to enforce any new rules.
- Monitor and enforce policies: Rental housing operators should monitor and enforce their new pet policies to ensure compliance. Have a plan in place for handling any violations of the policies and be fair and consistent with any necessary action.