Pet Policies

Pets: Love, Marketing and Lifetime Value

    The time has come for apartment operators to rethink pet policies such as traditional breed and weight restrictions.

    That was one of the primary points made by expert panelists during the Pets: Love, Marketing and Lifetime Value session at the 2021 Apartment Innovation and Marketing Conference (AIM). The panelists noted that by removing or reducing breed and weight restrictions, apartment operators can attract and retain more residents and boost revenue.

    The need to become more pet-friendly stems from the fact that so many renters have pets and consider them indispensable members of their families, panelists noted. There are now more pets in the U.S. than children, according to the American Pet Products Association. In fact, 67% of U.S. households own a pet, and Americans spent approximately $99 billion on pets last year. Furthermore, over the course of the pandemic, an increased number of residents acquired pets. But multifamily pet policies don’t seem to be keeping up with the times, the panelists argued.

    “With the pandemic, the industry has taken some small steps to change, but we really have an opportunity to step back and figure out some of the paradigms holding us back from being truly pet friendly,” said Melanie Flaherty, senior vice president of marketing for Carmel Partners. “If we rethink pets and how we strategically plan policies, that will impact the bottom line.”

    According to the 2021 Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative (PIHI) report from Michelson Found Animals Foundation and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, 76% of operators say they’re pet-friendly yet 72% of residents say pet-friendly housing is hard to find.

    “If you look at the top 10 breeds according to the American Kennel Club, you see six of them wouldn’t be able to live in your community based on breed or weight restrictions,” said Judy Bellack, industry principal for Michelson Found Animals. “So right out of the gate, a lot of owners and operators are reducing their rental pool by a great deal.”

    The Management Group revamped its pet policies completely, and the results have been extremely positive, according to Jamin Harkness, executive vice president at the company.

    “Two years ago, we got rid of all breed restrictions and weight limits, and we also decided to eliminate pet rent,” he said. “But 80% of our residents that have pets renew, and I’ll take that over a monthly pet rent. I’ll save it on having less vacancies.”

    The benefits The Management Group has experienced underscore what a potent financial impact reducing or eliminating restrictions can have, panelists noted.

    “No one here is advocating for you to just ease your restrictions,” Bellack said. “We’re saying it’s a great business decision and there is a major financial opportunity in opening up your rental pool by easing restrictions, and you can better know what you have onsite to better enforce your policy.”

    As the panelists noted, another benefit to reducing or eliminating breed and weight restrictions is that residents will be less likely to file fraudulent assistance animal accommodation requests to try and get their pets onsite.

    “If you continue to have breed restrictions, what you’re going to see is the same breeds onsite but as some type of assistance animal,” said John Bradford, founder and CEO of PetScreening. “Because under HUD’s Fair Housing Act, restrictions do not apply to assistance animals.”

    Operators cannot charge fees for assistance animals.

    The PIHI report found that 11% of all renters have a pet even though they're not allowed to, which means they're not paying pet fees and deposits. In all, operators could collect $1.5 billion more in pet revenue each year by allowing those pets, the report says. And that number could be on the rise, as a recent PetScreening study found that 26% of residents acquired a pet during the pandemic.

    While many operators keep breed and weight restrictions in place due to insurance policies, many carriers are changing their requirements, panelists added.

    “The fact of the matter is that many of the major insurance providers have eliminated that, because there is zero data to support that there’s any such thing as a dangerous breed,” Bellack said. “There may be dangerous dogs and there are certainly irresponsible pet owners, but there are no dangerous breeds.”

    Panelists suggested investing in pet amenities, such as dog parks and pet spas, to attract and retain more pet-owning residents. By doing so, operators are not only catering to pet owners, they’re also protecting other areas of the community for all residents.

    And these amenities don’t always have to be built from scratch, panelists added. They can be created by repurposing existing spaces to something more useful.

    “We had a tennis court that was rarely being used so I retrofitted it and made it a dog park. It’s now used more than the pool. People host yappy hours out there, and they love it,” Harkness said.