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Pet shelters emptied quickly during the pandemic. It was one of the few heartwarming aspects of 2020.

Many of those new-homed pets, naturally, landed in the apartment world. According to the Multifamily Pet Policies and Amenities Survey recently released by PetScreening and J Turner Research, 26% of pet-owning respondents indicated they acquired their pet during the pandemic. The rate climbs to 39% when narrowing down to student-only respondents.

The survey, which included the feedback of more than 22,000 apartment residents, also revealed that 19% of respondents that currently do not own pets indicated that they intend to acquire one within the next year. That suggests the rise in pet adoption won't level off any time soon.

The trend has put the onus on apartment operators to boost their pet friendliness to help capture the ever-increasing numbers of pet-owning renters. It has also prodded them to create the most pet-responsible environment possible at their communities to help ensure that pet-free residents remain comfortable in their living space.

For large-scale context, a recent American Pet Productions Association National Pet Owners Survey indicated that 67% of American households own at least one pet, which represents a significant increase from 56% in 1988, the initial year of the survey. Here’s a look at some of the measures apartment operators have instituted to help meet the changing pet landscape.

Rescue Partnerships and Pet-Based Leasing Incentives

Pegasus Residential, a property management company based in Alpharetta, Georgia, was already a top pet-friendly operator. A vast number of Pegasus communities have pet parks, and the company often partners with a local ASPCA, which had been Pegasus’ charity of choice for many years.

The Pegasus Paws program helped raise $40,000 for the ASPCA in 2019, and the company also has given back to the Angels Among Us pet-rescue charity. Pegasus has continued with its philanthropic measures amid the pandemic-fueled surge in pet ownership.

According to Wendy Dorchester, senior vice president of operations for Pegasus, the company often infuses pet-based incentives into its leasing process. For instance, renters who sign a lease on a particular weekend may receive the perk of no upfront pet fees. Pegasus also hosts pet-adoption events and makes pets available for prospects and current residents.

“Pets are near and dear to us,” Dorchester says. “Many of us bring our pets to work at the corporate office. It’s very normal to walk past someone’s cubicle and they have a baby gate up because they have a pup with them. We also have pup showers at the office when someone gets a new dog. We’re just a very pet-friendly organization.”

Like many operators, Pegasus makes treats available for pets in community leasing offices. The company continues to partner with local rescue groups and recently hosted a Great Dane puppy event at an Austin, Texas-based community. Many of those puppies found homes, including one to the community manager.

“We will continue to partner with local rescues to help place pets in homes throughout our portfolio,” Dorchester says. “Knowing that nearly 70% of apartment renters share their homes with pets, we will continue to cater to their desire to have that companionship, particularly in these uncertain times.”

Pet Perks, Amenities, and Socialization Channels

LMC recognized the surge of new pets in 2020 and wanted to help those acquiring them. Considering many LMC communities are equipped with pet snack bars, fancy pet spas, and high-end dog runs, it should come as no surprise that the company wanted to be part of the solution.

“At most of our communities last year, we eliminated pet fees or deposits for adopted or fostered pets,” says Lucy Simone, senior vice president of associate development for LMC, the multifamily branch of top home builder Lennar. “We wanted to ensure residents knew that we appreciated their efforts to provide a new home for a pet, and we wanted to do everything we could to help.”

Some LMC communities have been known to partner with local shelters and make a cash donation for every lease signed. The company continues to be very cognizant of its pet population and hosted a pet-supply drive for the holidays. LMC communities also have been known to supply pet owners with a pet-pack gift set as a random act of kindness.

As part of its Pet Perks program, the company’s all-encompassing pet-centric initiative, LMC hosts various Instagram contests. Included are best pet attire, best costumes, and additional themes such as Mutt Madness—an NCAA bracket-style contest where residents vote on the cutest pet. LMC often offers free smoothies for residents—accompanied by “bow wow bowls” for pets—and will reignite its popular “yappy hours” when social-distance measures allow.

“We also have incorporated pet-themed events that create memories with our residents and communities,” Simone says. “The Halloween pet costume contests are always a crowd pleaser. Also, we do holiday portraits with pets and with their parents in front of themed backgrounds.”

Creating a Pet-Responsible Experience

As operators extend efforts to increase their pet-friendliness, they do not want to alienate another subset of residents—the non-pet owners. That means a property’s policies must not only be pet-friendly, but also pet responsible.

“As the pet population grows at apartment communities, it can be overwhelming in some cases,” says John Bradford, founder and president of PetScreening. “Property teams have to effectively manage all of the new pets and ensure they have a proper record of all of them. Meanwhile, some properties are reducing weight and breed restrictions to increase their appeal—which is fantastic—but it has to be a measured, responsible process to be effective.”

According to the survey from PetScreening and J Turner Research, non-pet-owning residents are reasonably accepting of a community’s animal population. On a scale of 0 to 10—with 0 being "don't like them" and 10 being "very comfortable"—non-pet-owning renters had an average comfort level of 6.3 with having pets on the property.

But these residents are not without their issues of contention. The three primary complaints were pet waste (cited by 84% of non-pet owners), barking (62%), and off-leash pets (37%). With pet waste a clear universal concern, many communities have stepped up their efforts to keep things clean. That includes partnerships with doggie DNA providers that can trace the waste back to a particular pet.

“A number of Pegasus communities use it, and we love it because it really cuts down on pet waste,” Dorchester says. “With pet waste being a primary complaint, we want to make sure that our communities are kept very clean with waste stations positioned throughout the property.”

The pet population surge is a reality. And while most would agree it’s a largely positive trend, it has shifted the landscape in the apartment world. Operators that take a passive approach to the rising influx undoubtedly will struggle to remain competitive with their counterparts that continue to sharpen their levels of pet friendliness and pet accountability.