Blue Ridge Companies
High Point, N.C.
11,000 homes spanning 40+ communities in the Southeast
Developed, owned and managed
Blue Ridge Companies had assembled high-functioning property teams across its 40-plus apartment communities in the Southeast. These associates joined the company because they enjoyed leasing homes and creating an enjoyable living environment.
Something was becoming a burden, however. Although property teams loved pets, the difficulties of processing various assistance animal accommodation applications often could be draining.
“It was challenging for our property managers to have to be knowledgeable about the Fair Housing Act, HUD, and local and state fair housing laws,” said Susan Passmore, executive vice president of Blue Ridge Companies. “Additionally, our property managers are no experts about assistance animals and could not always interpret whether these requests were valid or up to date.”
Stephanie Moran, regional manager for Blue Ridge Companies, witnessed the struggle firsthand at her communities.
“Our teams would constantly get documentation from residents declaring ‘my pet is an assistance animal,’ but they wouldn’t get the correct documentation,” she said. “This led to a lot of research and back-and-forth as to whether the animal was allowed. We were consistently receiving a lot of fraudulent documentation or a lack of documentation, and it was time-consuming.”
Blue Ridge, which had always been on the cutting edge of the technological curve, sought a solution to better manage assistance animal requests and better manage pet processes in general.
Eager to take the load off associates and more accurately track its pet population, Blue Ridge opted to adopt the PetScreening platform in May 2019. First and foremost for Blue Ridge was the ability to lean on a team of professionals to evaluate reasonable accommodation requests for assistance animals, such as service animals and ESAs.
The solution also allows Blue Ridge communities to evaluate the risk posed by ordinary pets owned by prospects.
“We consider the folks at PetScreening to be experts, so we let them process our furry resident applications, and it takes the additional required work off our team,” Passmore said.
Gone are the days when these requests would devour several hours of the day for onsite associates. It has made things more streamlined for prospects and residents, as well, both those with pets and those with assistance animals.
“Before PetScreening, pet-owning prospects had to go through a cumbersome process to live at the community,” said Kelly Kimrey, community manager at Country Park at Tall Oaks in Greensboro, N.C. “They’d have to go through their vet to obtain shot and vaccination records, and if they had a support animal, like an ESA, they would have to go through their healthcare provider to obtain verification. This could become very time-consuming for our teams, as well, particularly if any documentation was fraudulent. Now PetScreening does everything for us and it’s really simple. And residents get quicker, more accurate responses to their requests.”
Onsite teams can simply send a link to new residents, who then can fill out all the pet- and assistance animal-related info themselves, upload vet info and provide any additional needed information.
Blue Ridge also chose PetScreening to help with several additional aspects of the online pet process, including how to price pet rent. PetScreening’s trademark FIDO Score™ evaluates pets on a 1 to 5 Paw rating based upon their propensity for damage. It enables properties to institute a sliding scale for pet fees, if they choose.
“At the end of the day, pets are going to live in our apartment homes, and they may or may not cause damage to the unit,” said Gina Carter, vice president of portfolio operations for Blue Ridge Companies. “Pets less likely to cause damage, such as a cat, may be subject to lower pet fees than a pet that might require a little more tender love and care, such as a puppy. The FIDO Score helps us determine that threshold in a consistent manner across our entire portfolio.”
Implementing PetScreening has helped Blue Ridge achieve its original objective of alleviating team members from the various nuances of evaluating reasonable accommodation requests for assistance animals. It has also provided a boost to their pet revenue stream.
“Due to fewer fraudulent assistance animals, our portfolio has seen an increase in income with PetScreening,” Moran said. “It has enabled us to recover pet fees on pets that might have fraudulently sneaked through as assistance animals in the past.”
Since adopting PetScreening, Blue Ridge has screened 14,000 pets and processed 1,000 assistance animal accommodation requests. Only 40% of those reasonable accommodation requests for assistance animals reached “recommended” status by PetScreening, meaning the service has been able to weed out many bad actors. The majority of requests are typically not sufficiently supported to meet the HUD guidelines, and some are "not recommended" due to fraudulent documentation. Onsite teams, meanwhile, aren’t stuck in the middle to be the bearer of bad news when the requests are denied.
“Using PetScreening frees up a lot of time for the onsite staff so they can concentrate on other important property tasks,” April Vasta, regional manager for Blue Ridge Companies. “The teams can submit the assistance animal-related documentation to PetScreening then move on.”
Nearly four years after adopting it, Blue Ridge couldn’t envision going back to the old way.
“Not only do we recommend PetScreening to our clients—we require it, whether it’s an owned or third-party property,” Carter said.
The price component and ease of implementation have made a positive impact, as well.
“PetScreening is a free service to the property owner, so it just makes sense,” Passmore said. “I would absolutely recommend it to other operators, 100%. It allows us to make sure that we’re leasing to responsible pet owners.”