Closing the Loophole on Unauthorized Pets
By Kortney Balas, JVM Realty Corporation.
Pet screening processes account for residents who acquire pets after move-in.
It is widely believed that one of the most common pet-related challenges for community management teams is assistance animals and the potential fraud surrounding them. While managing assistance animal requests can be cumbersome, it’s another issue that has plagued property management to an even larger degree for years – unauthorized pets.
This often occurs when pet-free residents acquire a pet, pet sit or have pet visitors after initial move-in and do not report the pet activity to the community. With the rising popularity of gig economy businesses related to pet care, such as Rover and Wag!, more residents engage in some form of pet activity. To them, it might be ambiguous whether an animal they bring onsite is considered to be a pet at the community, if only temporarily.
Oftentimes, whether it’s incident-related, a matter of a resident avoiding pet rent or simply the innocent act of adopting a new pet, the resident claims they didn’t know the rules. Even communities that do provide non-pet residents with a clear pet policy at move-in will find that the fine print is often overlooked, as the resident often concentrates on the aspects more applicable to their lifestyle at that time.
Whether because of haste or oversight, there are times when leasing professionals don’t address the community’s pet policy with residents who aren’t accompanied with their pets during the application or lease-signing moment. Making prospective residents aware of the policy during their initial visit to the property, including signing off that they understand it, can help matters later in the lease term. Residents who might not have acknowledged the pet policies from the start are essentially flying under the radar with their newly acquired pets after move-in – and, naturally, this creates an increased risk for the community. For example, if Jason from 201-B adopts or pet-sits a dog that ends up biting a resident, the victim won’t take long to question the dog’s presence at the community.
Even if Jason’s dog is as sweet as can be and schmoozes nearby residents into becoming regular treat dispensers, the community is losing revenue. Jason certainly isn’t paying pet rent if he acquired the dog after his move-in date and never reported it and the dog might not comply with community regulations. Apartment operators often leave money on the table and increase their risk when pet-free residents such as this one end up acquiring a pet. The leasing team is often focused on other areas of business and are unable to stop and validate each dog they see during the course of their day.
Encouragingly, innovative solutions from third-party providers such as PetScreening.com, offer a way to close this loophole by requiring all residents – even those without pets – to acknowledge pet policies line-by-line during the application process. Pet owners set up an account and enter their pet’s medical and behavioral history for a small annual fee, enabling the community to have more visibility into their pet population and report any future incidents to a centralized database. Pet-free residents set up a free profile that requires them to report any new pet activity.
While most apartment operators have a pet-reporting process in place, it usually involves an addendum to the leasing agreement that is given to the resident after they report having a new pet or after they’re caught with a pet. The Web-based screening process replaces that with a digitally based agreement that is more binding because it is given upfront and requires policy-by-policy acknowledgment during the application process. The integration of pet screening into the existing online application process erases any loopholes and communicates what the pet policies are whether or not the resident is a full-time pet owner.
Most pet-free residents won’t have much interest in signing up for a pet profile, their apathy for doing so can change when it is required as part of the application process and there is a no-cost component. This carries the added bonus for community management teams that their residents are educated about the community’s pet policies and understand what is expected of pet-owning residents. This has helped onsite teams save time, erase any resident misconceptions and create a more streamlined pet-related experience. Ultimately, it leads to more responsible and accountable pet owners.
Although the challenges surrounding assistance animals are perhaps more prominent in the industry, the non-pet-owner who suddenly becomes one can create quite the conundrum. But tech advancements have made certain that community management teams will have a robust way to address this challenge moving forward.