Part of the challenge of crafting an effective pet policy is that there is no right answer. Sure, standardized policies would make things easier, but that’s where the apartment industry fell behind the curve in the first place.
The freedom to create your own policy enables operators to cater to the nuances of their properties and best reflect the tendencies of their residents. That said, there are several components that can help shape any modern-day policy while allowing the wiggle room to design it in a customized fashion.
One general recommendation is to keep any resident-facing policies as concise as possible. That makes them more digestible and leaves less room for ambiguity as to how they’re interpreted. Otherwise, here are some guidelines to construct pet policies better fit for the 2020s opposed to the rigid policies of the 1990s or 2000s.
We'll start with an easy one. While you most likely already have a limit on the number of pets per home, consider raising them. That's within reason, of course—if you allow one, consider raising it to two. You can also check with local jurisdictions for guidelines on the number of pets if anything is unclear. The average number of pets per household is 1.6, so limiting a resident to one pet does not even meet the household average.
There are many ways to go about pet fees, but the key is to make sure they are clearly communicated. Some communities charge an upfront refundable pet deposit earmarked for pet damages, or, instead, they charge a nonrefundable pet fee. Additionally, many communities also charge a monthly pet rent fee, which is in addition to the monthly rent. Some charge both. Our recommendation is to be conservative with these fees to increase the chances of attracting and retaining pet owners.
As noted by Atlanta-based operator The Management Group, the money spent turning a home is often significantly more than any gained from pet revenue. You can also offer incentives, such as waiving pet deposits or a month of pet rent for those who adopt from a local shelter or utilize an animal service that partners with the community.
Given the modern-day landscape, operators may want to consider eliminating breed restrictions to maximize their ability to attract today’s renters. Of course, this should be done in a responsible fashion in which a robust evaluation process is in place to evaluate individual pets and owners. Properties electing to keep restrictions can consider reducing them to some degree. Consult your insurance carrier about whether it has a list of dog breeds it believes pose an elevated risk. If your insurance policy still has breed restrictions, then shop for alternative insurance carriers. Fortunately, many insurance carriers do not require breed restrictions, which can help open your resident audience.
Weight Limits and Age Limits
These certainly are not as touchy a topic as breed restrictions. For years, the standard weight limit at rental communities was 45 to 50 pounds. Because no data supports the idea that larger pets cause more damage, many have entirely moved on from weight restrictions. We recommend the same. That said, communities can consider a size limit on pet equipment, such as the size of a fish aquarium due to the possibility of a water leak. Regarding age limit, some properties prohibit puppies due to an increased risk of damage from chewing and not being housebroken. One way to strike a balance is to allow younger pets but charge the appropriate pet fees and rents to cover your risk.
Your policy should state that reasonable accommodations will be made for assistance animals in accordance with the Fair Housing Act. Given the nuances between service and support animals and the required documentation for assistance animal accommodation requests, an operator should have a fair and consistent evaluation process in place to handle reasonable accommodation requests. If you can remove the on-site team from that process—considering many are not experts on the topic—even better. Rely on the most recent Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) notice for guidelines while keeping in mind that pet fees and community-sanctioned restrictions do not apply to legitimate assistance animals.
Forward-thinking policies are not only good to have in today’s property management world—they are a must-have. As outlined in previous columns, numerous studies, surveys, and additional datasets underscore the rising importance of pets to renters. Simply put, if their pets aren’t happy, they’ll consider moving on. One way to prevent that from happening is to create policies that will be well-received by the modern pet owner while also protecting your property.
This is the eighth installment of a monthly series by John Bradford. Previous topics include service vs. support animals; promoting responsible pet ownership; debunking the myth of dangerous dog breeds; resident retention through pet inclusiveness; the state of pets in multifamily in 2023, the rise of pet-centric amenities, rethinking pet breed and weight restrictions, and navigating fraudulent accommodation requests for assistance animals.