Property Management

Session Recap: The Impact of the ESA-Friendly Community

by Vince Wong

Don’t let the bad actors ruin a good thing. 

The benefits of emotional support animals are rampant in the apartment industry, yet a small percentage of pet owners who submit insufficient assistance animal accommodation requests cloud the perception. 

In actuality, a significant majority of pet owners claiming an ESA have a legitimate prescription from a medical professional—80% according to research from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute. 

A panel at the APTvirtual session The Impact of Emotional Support Animal-Friendly Community explored ways to get past these perceptions and discussed the benefits of having ESAs and their owners at the community. These include happier, longer-staying residents, increased revenue opportunities and a larger resident pool. 

According to the panel, one way apartment communities can eliminate the small percentage of fraudulent ESA claims is to be less-restrictive with their policies. Rigid restrictions to breed, size and other characteristics can create an environment in which owners of these pets will seek alternatives. 

“I think we’ve had a problem with restrictions for a while, and I think it comes from inherent biases,” said Heather Blume, speaker, trainer, consultant and author at Behind the Leasing Desk. “People look at a bigger dog and automatically think bigger damage (while that isn’t necessarily the case).”

Additionally, a disparity remains in what property managers and residents consider pet-inclusive housing. Data from the Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative indicates approximately 76% of apartment operators consider themselves pet friendly, although 72% of residents said pet-friendly housing is hard to find. According to HABRI executive director Steve Feldman, pet restrictions lead to the discrepancy. 

For instance, the average weight restriction for dogs is 45 pounds, which excludes a wide variety of larger breeds from living in an apartment community. Breed restrictions and pet limits also automatically exclude a significant set of renters from considering that community as a potential home. 

Naturally, any modifications to pet policies should be done responsibly. Efforts to change preconceived notions on ESAs and provide a more pet-inclusive environment must include proper training among associates. Property teams should be aware of the new guidelines set forth by the Department of Urban Housing and Development for what associates can ask in properly verifying an ESA request, which eliminates much of the gray area. 

In making their communities increasingly ESA- and pet-friendly, apartment operators can significantly drive demand and offer a pet-friendly, pet-responsible living experience. 

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