Pet Policies

Creating the Perfect Pet Policy for Your Rental Property

    For some rental communities, the quest to become pet-friendly consists of the following:

    1. Allow pets at the property.

    OK, perhaps that's stating it too simply – and to be fair, allowing pets is a solid starting point. But various elements factor into crafting an effective and comprehensive pet policy – one that will collectively cater to residents, consider the nuances of the property and enable a rental community to operate efficiently and responsibly.

    Here are some of the primary elements to consider when crafting a perfect pet policy:

    Ease or eliminate restrictions

    While breed and weight are the most common restrictions in the industry, some properties also have age limits – such as prohibiting puppies less than one year old due to their perceived greater propensity to cause damage. Properties can consider eliminating these restrictions in favor of evaluating pets and their owners on an individual basis. In this scenario, properties maintain the right to deny a pet but not on the basis of pre-existing characteristics.

    While many operators have decided to ease or eliminate weight limits because little to no data supports the idea that larger pets cause increased damage, breed restrictions remain a work in progress. Operators are often hesitant because of the perception that their insurance carrier has restrictions in place, but many providers do not require breed restrictions. Eliminating these restrictions makes a property a viable option for a significant subset of renters whose pets are often prohibited.

    Consider raising pet limits

    The average number of pets per household among dog owners is 1.6 according to the American Veterinary Medical Association – and slightly higher among cat and bird owners – so restricting a resident to one pet has the potential to alienate a significant segment of renters. Consider raising your pet limits within reason. For example, if your current pet limit is one per home, consider elevating it to two. It may be helpful to look up local ordinances, which often contain limits to the number of pets per home in the area.

    Effectively manage assistance animal requests

    Very few leasing team members double as experts on HUD policies and the intricacies of reasonable accommodation animal requests. But that doesn't mean rental communities cannot go about them in a professional manner. Operators should have a consistent evaluation process in place to handle these requests and can consider a third-party service that firmly understands the distinction between service and support animals and the required documentation for each. This ensures fairness, accuracy and removes the onus from the onsite team. Regardless of the method you choose, your policy should state that reasonable accommodations will be made for assistance animals in accordance with the Fair Housing Act.

    Don't overindulge in pet fees

    A one-time non-refundable pet deposit or monthly pet rent can be a solid source of ancillary income, but properties should strike the balance of not overcharging pet-owning residents. Most expect to pay—and are fine with—a nominal fee in exchange for their pet being welcome at the property. These fees help operators offset any pet-related costs, such as amenities, pet programs and potential damages.

    Track your pet population

    Properties should take steps to ensure they know precisely how many pets are on their property, and in which homes. If you have 71 reported pets in your system but the actual number is 110, it can cause a multitude of issues. It heightens the property's liability risk, and unreported pets can detract from rightful pet revenue in that they are not subject to a pet deposit or monthly pet fees. Tools are available to help in this pursuit, making certain all residents formally acknowledge the need to report any acquired or visiting pets, including those they sit for.

    Customize the policy to your property

    Part of the reason the industry fell behind on the pet-friendliness meter is due to standardized policies, many of them antiquated and replete with many of the restrictions and concepts mentioned above. A perfect pet policy is one that covers the general bases above but also accounts for the particular intricacies of your property. To ensure that all residents are firmly aware of your policy, make it concise, easy to read and easy to find. You can clarify details about rules, exceptions and enforcement procedures in the lease agreement. Properties can also consider consulting with an attorney to help ensure their pet policy and lease terms are compliant with all state and local laws.

    Allowing pets on your property is a noble step, but it doesn't stand alone as a measure of pet-friendliness. The steps above can help shape a policy that is friendly, responsible and one that caters to the uniqueness of a particular community.