The Evolution of Pet Policies Post-Pandemic

By Ellen Ryan |

August 15, 2022 |

Updated August 16, 2022

5 minute read

The rental housing industry continues to balance attracting and retaining animal-loving residents with keeping the peace and mitigating potential problems.

Think your rental community’s gone to the dogs, cats and birds? You’re right. About two-thirds of U.S. households have at least one pet, and that holds true for rental housing residents, according to Apartments.com. And since March 2020, 12.6% of households have added a pet.

Welcoming pets has become a major selling point for apartment communities. “We hear from residents, ‘If you didn’t accept pets, I wouldn’t live here,’” says Alison Mack, Manager of Marketing and Property Development, Drucker + Falk (D+F). 

Studies show that pets enhance wellness and people’s enjoyment of their home, adds Brian Hawthrone, Vice President, Operations at Cardinal Group Management. “So we make our policy as compassionate as possible so residents who wish to have a pet can have one without financial burden or unreasonable rules and regulations.”

Pet policies have evolved as pet ownership has grown and laws have adapted. The rental housing industry is balancing how to attract and retain animal-loving residents, on one hand, and how to keep the peace and mitigate potential damage (and damages) on the other.

The application process

Applying to live at a community is a resident’s first exposure to a community’s pet policy—if it’s presented with the lease materials.

Since early 2020, Asset Living has utilized a third-party platform to standardize the process, capture unauthorized pets and collect potentially lost revenue for management clients in 40 states. Plus, the platform “is easier because it doesn’t feel personal,” says Stacey Lecocke, Executive Vice President of Operations, who oversees Asset Living’s student housing division. 

Applicants using the tool categorize themselves as having a pet, no pet or an assistance animal. Those with no pet are logged as such on their ledger and work orders. 

Data that applicants enter on one or more pets results in a score that “may mean varying fees and deposits based on risk” specific to the animal, Lecocke says. For service animals and emotional support animals—for which no fees are charged—the tool requires proper legal documentation (including a proper prescription). If the platform finds the request invalid, the animal is declared a pet, and standard procedures apply. 

Pet owners pay about $20 a year for the process, gaining a certification usable at grooming stores and elsewhere. Asset Living gains, too, because the process is a financial plus with ownership groups.

Rules and restrictions 

Pets in multifamily housing are nearly always limited by type, breed, weight, number and so on. Certain dog breeds are considered aggressive—“they may or may not be, but insurance sees it that way,” says Mack—and weight is a stand-in for potential noise on upper floors. 

Noting that many animals do better in pairs, the Humane Society of the U.S. recommends not restricting residents to one pet. Cardinal Group allows two total from among cats, dogs, fish and birds. D+F likewise refuses “exotic” animals, though certain snakes, amphibians and reptiles are allowed (one per unit).

Where pets can be outside the residential unit varies. At D+F properties, pets are forbidden at the pool, fitness center and laundry room and need to be leashed outdoors. Cardinal Group allows leashed animals “pretty much everywhere on the property” except at the pool area or gym, says Hawthorne; “for the most part, people are pretty understanding” in case of conflict and simply separate the parties.

The Humane Society offers a sample pet policy that includes several notable restrictions: Pets shall not be kept, bred or used for any commercial purpose; cats, dogs, rabbits and ferrets must be spayed or neutered; pets must not roam free or be tethered; cat litter may not go down toilets; pet bedding, toys, etc. must be laundered in pet-only washers and dryers (if applicable). 

Mitigating Issues

If a petless resident tries to adopt, “the SPCA will reach out to the community first to be sure it’s okay,” says Mack. Otherwise, most new pet owners happily bring their Fido or Fluffy by the management office for a coo and registration.

The most common way unregistered pets are discovered is during maintenance visits. If a resident is recorded as petless and a nose pops out from under the bed, the resident may be warned or fined. 

D+F sends a congratulatory note on “your new family member” and an invitation to catch up on paperwork. (The pet policy is an addendum to the lease, so everyone signs it upon moving in, says Mack.) 

Naturally, policies insist that owners pick up after pets. Not everyone does, though, which leads to unhealthy, unsafe and unattractive common areas. Third-party providers like the one that is used at many D+F properties can be leveraged to connect uncollected dog waste to a (ir)responsible human.

Upon enrolling the dog with the property, the owner swabs the dog’s cheek to add its DNA to the provider’s database. If waste is found, staff sends a sample to the company, receives an ID and fines the owner $50 to $350. If there’s a second offense, staff may ask the owner to remove the dog.

“The first year, we had six instances in a 400-unit community,” says Mack, adding that often the culprit was a child, dog walker or babysitter, not the owner of record. Word of mouth has kept incidents to near zero since.   

Staying relevant

Because laws and norms change, regular updating is necessary. Asset Living reviews its policy at least quarterly, Cardinal Group at least twice yearly. D+F doesn’t review on a schedule, but being active in all associations in the states where it’s located, it keeps up on legislative news and makes changes accordingly.

No company wants to be the subject of recent headlines such as “Pet alligator dies in Claymont apartment fire” and “A 425-Pound Tiger Living in a Harlem Apartment? Yes, It Happened.” Such occurrences are rare, but an equitable pet policy can help prevent them.

Being pet friendly—from hosting yappy hours and pet costume parties to offering cat and dog treats in the rental office—can encourage a sense of openness and trust that leads to community harmony and less hiding of animals (exotic or otherwise).

“Pets can increase mood and happiness, and we want our residents to be happy,” says Amanda Rast, Asset Living’s Vice President of Communications. “We want to keep them safe, too. There’s a balance.”

Ellen Ryan is a freelance writer.

Emotional Support Animals: Operational Resources

Housing providers need to follow a litany of laws regarding reasonable accommodation requests for emotional support animals. Leverage NAA resources to help shed light on the current state of the law as they relate to emotional support animals, including the newly updated NAA Emotional Support Animal Toolkit. This e-book informs industry professionals on their fair housing obligations related to reasonable accommodations for animals in housing and helps housing providers navigate fraudulent requests for emotional support animals.