Internet, keyless entryways and Bluetooth capabilities have a lot in common with pets. All were afterthoughts in the apartment world in decades past.
But just as most renters simply cannot live without digital connectivity, they have become more discerning about the potential comfort levels of their pets, as well. In 2023, merely allowing pets at a rental community no longer qualifies as “pet friendly.”
This has been a gradual trend, naturally, and not something that just sprouted up over the past few months. The response by apartment operators, however, has been mixed. Some are on the cutting edge and have adeptly met the morphing preferences and demands of pet owners, while others have been slow to adapt.
Some of the fluctuation can be accounted for by regional factors, as pet ownership differs by locale. Research by renters insurance provider Lemonade indicates that Wyoming features the highest percentage of pet owners (72%), while Washington. D.C., although technically not a state, features the lowest (38.2%). For the sake of perspective, most stakes rank nearer the larger percentage, and various studies have pinpointed apartment pet ownership to land in the range of 65%-70% of U.S. households.
But no matter the percentage, what rings true is that pet owners will move along if a rental community’s pet policies are antiquated and not up to 2023 standards. Here is a look at some of the broader pet-related issues most pertinent to the industry in modern times, and what operators must do to align with the expectations of pet-owning residents. We’ll discuss each of these in greater detail as part of this monthly series, but here is an overview:
Renters have grown weary of learning that their pet is too heavy, too large, not old enough or the wrong breed. Or maybe they have two pets, which is one too many. Subsequently, rental communities lose out on would-be solid renters by having any of these restrictions. Weight restrictions have begun to fall by the wayside, and operators have slowly begun to loosen restrictions on numbers of pets (within reason, of course). Breed restrictions remain a polarizing topic in the industry, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing for operators. They can lift breed restrictions but remain able to deny any pet by evaluating them on a case-by-case basis. We’ll more deeply examine this topic next month.
Some communities allow pets but don’t offer much else. No pet park, dog run, relief areas or pet spas. While an abundance of pet amenities is undoubtedly attractive to a pet owner, it is not always needed to sway their decisions. The basics – such as a pet park with shade and a well-stocked pet waste bag station – make for a comfortable experience for pets and their owners. Communities that offer pet treats in the office are doing something simple that helps pet owners feel welcome and acknowledged. Operators can take it a step further by partnering with local groomers, pet concierge services, shelters and adoption agencies to offer services and events that enhance the experiences of current pet owners as well as those looking for their next furry companion.
Some operators have gone all in on pet-friendliness but have been a bit haphazard in doing so. The experience can turn sour for pet-owning residents—and non-pet-owning residents—if no pet processes and rules are in place. Operators should use effective means to properly track their pet population to ensure all pets on the property are accounted for. They should also have consequences for poor pet-owner behavior, such as allowing excessive barking or aggressive behavior by pets, or not picking up pet waste. According to the Pet Policies & Amenities survey by PetScreening and J Turner Research, pet owners and non-pet owners alike agree with instituting higher fees for these types of issues. In fact, only 23% of pet owners were against it.
Some applicants will not be deterred if their pet is on a community’s restricted list. They’ll simply try to pass them off as a type of assistance animal, such as an ESA. This makes it complicated for teams to navigate through authentic and inauthentic service and support animal reasonable accommodation requests. More and more operators are leaning on third-party outlets to handle this stressful and time-consuming task. This is another topic we’ll revisit in greater detail down the road.
Pets and multifamily certainly are no longer mutually exclusive topics. Forward-thinking operators are aiming to meet modern residents in the middle and weed out the occasional bad actor. It remains a work in progress, but headway is certain to be made in 2023.