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Ask almost anyone in rental housing if their community is pet friendly, and the answer is a resounding “yes.” They’ll say, “Of course, we take pets,” “we have a bark park and a dog-wash station,” or “we love cats and dogs in our community.”

But there’s pet friendly, and there’s pet friendly (translation: pet inclusive). What’s the difference? According to the Pet-Inclusive Housing Report, plenty.

For example, while 76% of rental housing operators consider themselves pet friendly, would you be surprised to learn that 72% of residents say pet-friendly housing is hard to find? Or that 24% of pet owners say their pet has been a reason for moving? Or, tragically, that 14% of pet owners have surrendered their pet because of their housing situation?

While most rental housing operators do allow some pets—thus the de facto definition of a “pet-friendly community”—there is clearly a significant disconnect between operators and pet-owning renters. There are very simple reasons for this disconnect: abundant breed restrictions, significant size and pets-per-unit restrictions, and ever-increasing pet fees. Combine these factors with the current climate of higher rents and an affordable housing shortage, and the result is a lot of frustrated renters.

As pet ownership continues to increase across the U.S.—70% of households now have a pet, according to the Insurance Information Institute, up from 67% in 2019—our industry needs to change how we talk about welcoming pets. Simply saying you’re “pet friendly” isn’t enough. The term has become ambiguous and doesn’t tell the entire story. “Pet friendly” could mean that you only accept one cat or dog per household if it’s 20 pounds or less. Or, that you have no weight limit and allow two pets per unit but don’t accept 15 different breeds. Today’s pet-owning renter is savvy; they know restrictions exist and want to get to this information quickly because it’s nonnegotiable. Let’s face it: Renters aren’t going to give up their family member to move in no matter how fabulous a property may be.

Of course, if you have no breed or weight restrictions, kudos. You’re on the leading edge of this trend and should be marketing the heck out of this competitive advantage. But if you do have restrictions, it becomes important to communicate this to your audience so they, and your leasing agents, aren’t wasting time. For your property websites, you may want to consider building in some additional filters (pet friendly with restrictions, pet friendly with no restrictions) while making sure your specific pet policies are featured more prominently in the property details.

What other steps can you take to help renters connect more easily to properties that will accept their pet? Here are some ideas:

  • Detail your pet policies as much as possible in your online advertising, including the specifics of any size or breed restrictions, number of pets allowed per unit, any move-in requirements, and all pet-related fees;
  • If your property websites utilize AI chatbots, ensure these same specific details are included in question keywords and programmed responses;
  • When receiving inquiries via email or phone, be prepared to relate comprehensive pet-policy information, saving both you and the prospect time; and
  • If your properties have no size or breed restrictions, consider the right keyword buys to connect with this renter market more effectively (large dogs, for example).

I can’t close without pointing out that one of the most impactful measures is to reconsider any pet restrictions currently in place. Removing or even easing restrictions makes life simpler for everyone. And there’s plenty of case study research that demonstrates pets are good for business–not only financially but also by building more connected communities.