Like nearly everything in an increasingly digital world, rental pet policies are in need of a refresh.
Many pet policies in the apartment world are outdated and based on logic from a previous era, when residents viewed pet-friendliness as a luxury rather than a prerequisite, and before advanced tech tools were available to make life easier for onsite teams.
Some pet policies are worth keeping while others should be dumped and can go the way of the dial-up modem. Here is a look at some of the primary examples from each side.
Pet Policy Keepers
Pet Fees, Pet Deposits and Pet Rent: Residents understand that additional fees come with the pet-friendly territory for apartments. Most residents won’t balk at paying a premium to have their four-legged companion in their rental home, aware that the risk for damage is greater. For apartment communities, pet-friendliness equates to ancillary income opportunities, generally in the form of monthly pet rent, non-refundable pet fees and/or refundable pet deposits.
It’s noteworthy that some apartment operators are veering away from an initial refundable pet deposit and moving toward a non-refundable pet fee. They realize that most pets come with risk of damage and want to recoup some of the costs upfront. Some are even innovating their traditional pet rent (see ‘Flat Rate Pet Rent’ below).
Other operators are instituting something of a “resort fee” model, often utilized by hotels. This includes one all-encompassing recurring fee rather than separate bills for utilities, trash, pet fees and other community-related costs. This approach helps to alleviate the need to tell the prospective residents, “Your monthly fees are $X” for each of those categories. They now are able to convey: “There is a resident fee that covers all of your monthly needs, above and beyond your rent”.
Pet waste pickup requirements: This policy has staying power, because it will never be fashionable to leave pet waste unattended. Onsite teams can help by designating pet relief areas and making sure pet bags are always readily available. But even with proper resources, it’s inevitable that a few offenders will always exist. Nowadays, advanced accountability options are available, as apartment communities have the option to utilize DNA platforms, which can test the waste and determine which pet it came from. The idea isn’t to isolate offending individuals as much as it is to promote accountability up front.
Pet reporting: For the most part, residents are good about reporting their pets at the time of move-in. The same can’t be said for non-pet owners who acquire one or more during their stay, or existing animal owners who add others after move-in. This loophole can be closed by digitally standardizing pet processes—part of which involves the requirement that all residents formally acknowledge a community’s pet policies at the time they apply for the community. This serves as a legal acknowledgement and fosters accountability.
Unbeknownst to many apartment managers, apartment residents who don’t own a pet are making money by pet walking and pet sitting in the apartment unit. One property manager stated: “It’s almost like AirBNB or Uber for pets. We had one resident who had seven animals in his apartment and said that they were not his, he was just pet sitting.” Interestingly, most of the liability for any issues related to those animals will fall on the property.
Pet Policy Dumpers
Weight restrictions: The myth has been dispelled—larger pets don’t generally cause larger problems at an apartment community, which puts the entire concept of weight restriction into question. As such, Camden recently eradicated weight restrictions, with Senior Vice President of Operations, Tim Sloan, telling UNITS Magazine that residents haven’t complained about oversized pets at Camden communities since the changeover. Apartment operators that follow suit will expand their potential resident base to prospects with large pets, who would have previously looked elsewhere for their next home.
Breed restrictions: This one still can be a touchy subject, but the industry is moving toward a model in which each pet is evaluated on its own history (and that of its owner) rather than its preexisting characteristics. As increasing numbers of pets enter a centralized database that is updated in perpetuity, and follows residents when they move, more data will be available to help onsite teams determine whether the breed should be accepted at the property.
Another breed-related component applies specifically to pit bulls, which represent the most common breed for assistance animal accommodation requests. When removing breed restrictions, onsite teams have the opportunity to charge pet fees and rent for pit bulls under regular household pet guidelines. Otherwise they may show up as an assistance animal next week and pay no pet fees. Rich Properties is an example of an apartment operator that is pursuing this route.
Flat Rate Pet Rent: To optimize the pet policy even more, consider setting a range for monthly pet rent rather than a flat fee. By varying pet rents on the specific risk of the pet situation, managers are able to capture more pet revenue on average, especially if weight and breed restrictions are eliminated.
Variable pet rents give managers an auxiliary benefit -- more flexibility in how pet rent is presented. Some managers have become more creative with pet rent and have slightly discounted the monthly charge for responsible, pet owning residents with low-risk pets. This provides a positive resident experience in one unit while better accounting for pet-risk in another.
As the number of pets and animals increase at apartment communities across the nation, the need for pet/animal owner accountability follows suit. That has brought about an evolution in the way onsite teams configure their pet-related processes. It has also led to a reevaluation of pet policies that should be kept and those that now seem archaic. And with the help of advanced tech tools, refreshing those policies to increase both pet revenue and resident satisfaction is possible today.