by Mike Shytle
As the new year gets underway, multifamily operators are continuing their multi-pronged efforts to enhance their appeal to the modern renter.
To cite just one example, more operators are optimizing the prospect journey by implementing the kinds of technologies – such as self-guided onsite tours, chatbots and virtual tours – that allow apartment shoppers to look for their next home in exactly the manner and during the time of day they want. Meanwhile, the ongoing adoption of smart-home solutions enables today’s discerning residents to have the cutting-edge living experience they demand.
Not to be lost among these efforts is the fact that many owners and operators are seeking to make their communities more appealing to pet-owning residents. Doing so is not only a kind thing to do, but it also makes good business sense.
For starters, there are a lot of pet-owning renters: 70% of U.S. households owned a pet in 2022, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
On top of that, residents in pet-friendly housing stay 21% longer than those in non-pet-friendly housing, based on the Pet-Inclusive Housing Report from Michelson Found Animals Foundation and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute. This has an important financial impact, as it allows property managers to reduce their turn costs and marketing spends because they’re not having to fill units as frequently. Similarly, the report says that 83% of owner/operators say pet-friendly vacancies are filled more quickly.
With all that in mind, below are some pet-related trends that we can expect to continue to gain traction in the apartment industry in 2023.
• Rethinking restrictions. There isn’t a database that allows us to statistically track this trend, but anecdotal evidence suggests that a growing number of apartment owners and operators have seen the wisdom in eliminating or reducing breed and/or weight restrictions. Among the companies to do so in recent years are The Management Group, MAA, Pegasus Residential, Oculus Realty and Milhaus.
These kinds of restrictions – which are often based on myths about dangerous breeds or faulty assumptions about property insurance requirements – unnecessarily limit a community’s pool of prospective renters. In addition, they often backfire by compelling a less-than-scrupulous lease applicant to submit a fraudulent reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal in an attempt to get their banned pet onsite. If the applicant’s deceit is successful, the pet will be living at the community as an “assistance animal,” and the operator won’t be able to charge pet rent and other fees since these can’t be charged for assistance animals.
Operators rethinking their restrictions should also know that they will have their residents’ support. According to the Pet Policies and Amenities in Multifamily report by PetScreening and J Turner Research, 53% of apartment residents are against breed restrictions, while only 24% are pro-restriction and 23% are indifferent. The numbers are similar for weight restrictions, with 56% against them, 20% for them and 24% in the “don’t care” category.
• More onsite amenities. It’s one thing to open your communities’ doors to more pets. But once residents and their furry friends have moved in, operators have to make sure they’re providing an enriching and high-quality living experience.
To that end, forward-thinking property managers are making sure their communities have amenities like shady and attractive pet parks, pet-washing stations and pet-concierge services. The Fidus communities in Texas are truly pushing the envelope in this area, offering pet-sitting services, in-unit cameras that allow residents to remotely monitor their pets and a treat dispenser with artificial intelligence capabilities that sends residents a text if their dog is barking or otherwise in distress.
If building an array of pet amenities seems intimidating or cost prohibitive, operators shouldn’t worry too much about that. The PetScreening-J Turner Report found the two pet-related amenities most desired by residents are waste-bag stations and onsite dog parks, both of which can be relatively easy and cost effective to implement.
• Getting a hold on reasonable accommodation requests for assistance animals. Assistance animals, such as service animals and support animals, are protected by fair housing laws and are different from household pets. But many apartment communities are implementing processes and technologies to better handle their reasonable accommodation requests, which can be extremely time-consuming. As mentioned above, accommodation requests for assistance animals are highly susceptible to fraud, such as fake ESAs. This is a topic we’ll revisit in greater detail later this year.
In summary, recent years have seen operators develop a greater awareness of how pets can provide a healthy boost to their bottom lines. 2023 promises to see more operators embrace pet-inclusive policies and practices.