To attract and retain pet lovers, forward-thinking operators are taking a wide-ranging approach that includes the elimination of breed and weight restrictions, the installation of onsite pet amenities and the support of animal organizations
in the community.
It’s not enough anymore to say you allow pets in your community. Today’s rental housing residents don’t want housing providers that merely tolerate their pets, they want ones that truly appreciate pets and go the extra mile to make pet owners feel welcome.
“Residents understand that long-held perceptions of breeds are flawed, and many no longer favor these restrictions in their communities,” says Judy Bellack, Industry Principal for the Michelson Found Animals nonprofit and part of the team leading the Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative (PIHI), created in partnership with the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI). “Prospective and current residents are seeking an environment that understands pets and the intense bond they share with their owners. After all, pets are members of the family. Savvy operators embrace this dynamic and realize pet-inclusivity is good for business and the bottom line.”
The 2021 Pet-Inclusive Housing Report from Michelson and HABRI outlines the business opportunities presented by putting out the welcome mat for pets and their owners. According to the report, a community’s pet-friendliness is second only to price on a renter’s wish list for their home. Only 9% of those surveyed say pet-friendliness was an issue on which they were willing to compromise. In addition, 72% of residents say pet-friendly housing is hard to find, and the study also found that residents in pet-friendly housing stay 21% longer than those in non-pet-friendly housing, which can boost the bottom line by slashing turn and marketing costs.
A report by PetScreening and J Turner Research provides further insight into renters’ attitudes about pets. The study found that 54% of residents are against breed restrictions and 23% are indifferent, meaning only 24% of residents actively support them. Similarly, 56% of residents are against weight-related restrictions, 24% are indifferent and only 20% support them.
As for the pet amenities most desired by pet owners, according to the report: Pet waste stations (cited by 65% of respondents), onsite dog parks (64%) and outdoor dog runs (45%).
Helping pets, communities and neighborhoods
Milhaus, an Indianapolis-based mixed-use development and property management company that oversees 5,000 apartment homes across 20 properties, wasn’t reluctant to drop its breed and weight restrictions when it did so in 2018. The organization found it made sense to offer pet-inclusiveness throughout its portfolio.
“We sat down in a room and talked about why the industry has these restrictions,” says Dave Brackett, Senior Vice President of Property Operations at Milhaus. “To an extent, we’d just been following what the industry was doing. We decided to try to set ourselves apart and do things a little differently by offering no restrictions to see where that took us, and it’s worked.”
Being pet-inclusive has helped build camaraderie between pet owners within each Milhaus community, where pet owners will gather and connect at their onsite pet parks for refreshments and to let their pets socialize.
“They laugh, they get to know each other, they get to be friends,” Brackett added. “That helps with renewals and helps our communities thrive.”
In addition to dog parks, each property is also equipped with a dog wash, which Brackett says is an immediate attraction for prospects. Many of the company’s prospective renters are referred by other pet-owning residents, as well as local humane societies with which Milhaus employees have partnered.
“We have community managers that reach out to the humane society to ask them if our employees can volunteer there or if they have referrals for us,” Brackett says. “We definitely let those organizations know we’re open to taking all pets—no breed or weight restrictions. Send themour way. Every lead counts. Every lead helps.”
A love of pets is part of the culture at Milhaus, where onsite associates keep treats on hand for any pets that stop by the office. Milhaus communities also hold pet-related events, sometimes in conjunction with local shelters and humane societies. This is not just part of the company’s commitment to its communities and residents, but also to the surrounding neighborhoods.
“Milhaus as a whole is very committed to changing neighborhoods and improving the quality of life of all the residents, not just ours,” Brackett says. “That’s a value we do believe in wholeheartedly and our teams believe in it wholeheartedly also. They feel better about the normal day-to-day job they have knowing they’re helping.”
Pets are in Pegasus’ DNA
Helping pets in need is also a primary goal for Pegasus Residential in Alpharetta, Ga., which hosts pet adoption events with the ASPCA and has raised $40,000 for the organization through its Pegasus Paws program. The company has also contributed to the Angels Among Us pet rescue charity. The love for pets runs through Pegasus’ DNA, according to Wendy Dorchester, Senior Vice President of Operations for Pegasus, and that shows in the actions of the company and its employees, who frequently take their own pet to the office.
Not surprisingly, Pegasus seeks to provide a pet-inclusive experience for residents as well. The operator, which is a third-party management company, has eliminated weight restrictions in all its communities and breed restrictions where owners have allowed. Pegasus manages risk by individually screening pets.
A combination of marketing and frequent pet specials has allowed Pegasus to raise awareness of its openness toward all types of pets, and the result has been a heightened renewal rate, according to Dorchester. Its communities feature dog parks, as well as other pet amenities, and onsite teams make a point of getting to know residents’ pets.
“Since becoming pet-inclusive, both resident satisfaction and the community experience have been remarkable,” Dorchester says. “We don’t welcome pets just because it makes good business sense, although it certainly does. We do it because our teams love pets, and they treat them as part of the community.”
Oculus rises above competition by bucking tradition
Washington, D.C.-based Oculus Realty moved to set itself apart from the competition a few years ago by adopting a pet-inclusive approach that can be rare in highly dense urban areas. The company took a careful approach to eliminate its weight and breed restrictions while simultaneously taking steps to upgrade pet infrastructure, such as dog parks, along the way.
This approach has boosted renewal rates and strengthened communities, according to K. David Meit, CPM, Principal of Oculus Realty.
“It’s the nature of animal lovers to build great communities and camaraderie with each other,” Meit explained. “That’s what every owner wants to see. Good relations among your residents encourage them to remain in a community and reduces turnover. People want to live where they feel comfortable and being pet-inclusive builds that comfort.”
Besides naming his own dog Basil as Oculus’ Chief Happiness Officer, Meit reaches out to third-party providers to conduct onsite pet events. While being pet-inclusive is almost enough in and of itself to stand out in Washington, D.C., Meit has also opted to boost appeal by forgoing hefty upfront pet deposits in favor of a smaller one-time fee and low pet rent. Oculus also employs a pet DNA service to prevent dog owners from leaving their pets’ waste unattended.
With pets being an integral part of the lives of many residents, the communities rising above the competition are the ones that go beyond the common “pet-friendly” label in favor of an environment that is truly inclusive and appreciative of pets in their communities.
Kevin Juhasz is a Content Manager at LinnellTaylor Marketing.