Case Study: Tracking Pets, Compliance and Fraudulent Documentation

    Since 1975, JVM Realty Corp. has been acquiring and managing luxury apartment communities across the Midwest with a commitment to providing residents with best-in-class hospitality and amenities that help simplify their lives. Based in Oak Brook, Ill., JVM operates a $1.2 billion multifamily portfolio, with communities in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

    The Challenge | Tracking Pets, Compliance and Fraudulent Documentation

    JVM has long welcomed pets in its communities, but a few years ago the company found itself grappling with several issues stemming from residents’ furry friends.

    The first issue was the need for detailed insight into the types and number of pets living at a property. With the system that JVM previously had in place, collecting that data proved to be a difficult task.

    “We were already able to enter pet information into our property management system, but the reporting didn't give us a whole lot of visibility into exactly how many of each type of pet we had and some of the more intricate information we needed,” said Kortney Balas, vice president of information management at JVM. “We really needed better reporting capability.”

    The second problem JVM faced was on the compliance side. It was a major challenge for team members to make sure each pet onsite was up-to-date on the necessary vaccinations.

    “There was nothing triggering us to say that a particular pet’s vaccination had expired,” Balas said. “We needed visibility into the compliance side of it to make sure that the pets living at our communities were meeting the lease requirements.”

    The third issue was the complex and time-consuming process for validating reasonable accommodation requests for emotional support and assistance animals, which was overwhelming onsite associates. 

    “It was becoming difficult for the teams to look at the supporting documents provided by residents or prospective residents and know whether they were actual valid, legal documents,” Balas said. “And because the leasing associate is the person who's supposed to be that relationship builder, it was putting our teams in a tricky spot when they had to have tough conversations with residents when there were problems with an accommodation request.”

    The Solution | Implementing the PetScreening Platform

    Unique to the multifamily industry, PetScreening was the only platform that offered a solution to the issues JVM was experiencing.

    “Nobody else in the space is doing anything like that,” Balas said. “So what really brought us to PetScreening was it’s a unique offering that actually solved something that’s really important and lacking in our industry.”

    The implementation of PetScreening, the industry’s only centralized database to analyze rental housing-related risk based on a variety of pet-related factors, is of no cost to the operators and is simple to roll out at each community. All residents, pet owners or otherwise, fill out a profile as part of the leasing process and formally acknowledge community pet policies.

    PetScreening team members provided top-tier training to the JVM team and were always available to help with the onboarding process and provide ongoing support, according to Balas.

    “The implementation is very easy,” she said. “The system integrated seamlessly with our property management system,  and their training was phenomenal. So they were able to answer questions, not only about their system, but also how their system interacts with our system. So it was really a one-stop-shop training as well. It's something that's really easily adoptable by your site teams and even your residents.”

    JVM piloted the PetScreening platform in the fall of 2018, and by 2019 it had adopted PetScreening portfolio-wide to handle its screening, tracking and verification of assistance animal accommodation requests. JVM noticed an immediate impact. 

    “It solved all three issues right off the bat,” Balas said.

    The Results | Transparency in Reporting, Confirming Compliance, Identifying Fraudulent ESA Requests

    JVM’s onsite teams now have transparency in reporting and know exactly what pets are at their properties.

    “We're quickly able to see all of the information about a dog in one place. We don't have to pull a file to look through and hope that the vet records are in there,” Balas said. “We can just go into PetScreening, pull up that unit and see that pet's profile.”

    Additionally, by utilizing PetScreening, JVM saved tremendously on missed income and avoided risky incidents in communities involving unvalidated pets. In fact, since onboarding PetScreening, the platform identified 164 out of 445 assistance animal requests (37%) as insufficient according to HUD criteria.

    With an average pet fee of $250 and an average monthly pet rent of $30, that equates to $41,000 in pet fees and $49,200 in pet rent JVM would have lost if those requests had erroneously been approved, since operators can’t charge money for assistance animals.

    “Some applicants may try to pass off their pet as an assistance animal in an effort to avoid fees typically associated with having a pet or in an attempt to avoid breed restriction guidelines,” Balas said. “If it isn't an emotional support animal, they should be paying pet fees accordingly.”

    The platform also removes the burden of reviewing and validating reasonable accommodation requests for assistance and service animals from onsite teams. This results in higher-quality reviews and also gives onsite associates time back to handle their many other responsibilities and means they don’t have to have awkward interactions with residents about the requests. PetScreening does the verification and gives the yes or no as to whether the supporting documents are legitimate.

    “So now we’re able to take that stress off of them and put it onto an actual review team,” Balas said. “If we say no, it's a no because a review team reviewed it and it doesn't jive with ADA.”

    With PetScreening, onsite teams also don’t need to worry about keeping up with compliance and vaccination records as the platform keeps all of the records and sends out reminders when shot renewals are needed.

    “It alerts our teams so that they can reach out and say, ‘Hey, it looks like your pet's vaccination is expired or getting ready to expire,’” Balas said. “Having somebody else do your compliance and taking it off the team's plates was critical.”

    Furthermore, PetScreening’s proprietary and customizable FIDO Score™ for pets, which provides a score of 0 to 5 paws based on housing-related risk, has also improved team members’ ability to identify potential issues early on. For example, a paw score of 0 helps trigger onsite teams to pay closer attention to the pet profile of somebody who may not have been upfront about their pet to the leasing agent.

    Of the 1,840 completed pet profiles that have been created since implementation, only 16 have received a 0 paw rating -- meaning that with the assistance of PetScreening, onsite teams are doing a tremendous job of communicating restrictions to applicants.

    While the user-friendly platform itself is invaluable, the PetScreening team and company culture also have played major roles in JVM’s satisfaction.

    “From the owner down, they have a great culture. They really enjoy what they do and know a lot about the products, so if you ask a question, you're going to get it answered,” Balas said.  “They’re a great, kind and compassionate team.”

    Balas would recommend PetScreening to any community that allows pets onsite.

    “At any new property we take on, we put on Pet Screening as soon as we acquire it,” she said. “It’s non-negotiable: we use PetScreening.”