Adopt Comprehensive Pet Policy to Address Owner's, Residents' Concerns
Becoming a pet-friendly site can be a great way to increase your pool of prospective residents and keep them longer once you find them. Responsible pet owners generally are also responsible tenants, and they appreciate sites that welcome Fido and Fluffy. In fact, research by FIREPAW, the Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research and Education Promoting Animal Welfare, found that pet owners in pet-friendly housing stay an average of 46 months, compared to 18 months for residents residing in rentals prohibiting pets.
Allowing pets on your site can help to keep your residents happy, but what about potential damage to the units caused by pets? The FIREPAW study found that property owners do not experience any substantive loss from pets. The findings revealed an average of $323 in damage for residents without pets, and $362 for residents with pets—or about $40 worth of extra damage, which is much less than the typical pet deposit.
Setting pet deposits high enough to separate casual pet owners from serious pet owners can help to ensure minimal damage caused by pets, says housing expert A.J. Johnson. “Serious pet owners train their pets well, and you'll find that they create much less damage to a unit than the casual pet owner.” Johnson says that serious pet owners will not hesitate to pay the deposit, while casual pet owners are likely to give up the pet rather than pay to keep it. (There is no limit to the amount a tax credit site can set as the deposit.)
Clearly Define Pet Restrictions in Policy
To ensure that residents properly care for and control their pets, it's important to set specific guidelines and rules. And yet, many sites that allow pets have only rudimentary policies in place, says Johnson. “Any property that is going to accept pets needs to protect itself by putting in place a comprehensive policy that details all of the terms and conditions relative to those pets.”
For instance, in our Model Agreement: Have Residents Sign Detailed Pet Policy, the pet restrictions for residents are plainly defined as far as the specific types of pets that are allowed, the number permitted per unit, where pets are allowed on the property and where they are prohibited, as well as rules regarding their behavior and care.
Similarly, sites that are concerned about allowing residents to keep animals that display aggressive behavior, bite, or attack other residents or pets often mistakenly discriminate against large dogs by imposing size or weight restrictions. Instead, Johnson recommends restricting the breeds that have a propensity toward aggressive behavior, such as the Presa Canario, Chow Chow, Doberman Pinscher, Rottweiler, and Pit Bull. “Owners and managers should also check with their local government,” he says. “Some localities prohibit certain breeds. For instance, Pit Bulls are prohibited in Maryland and have been declared a dangerous breed by the State of Ohio.” In some areas, different types of animals can be banned—for instance, New York City prohibits apartment residents from keeping ferrets as pets.
Also, remember to check with your insurance carrier, Johnson points out. Some policies include riders that waive coverage of injuries caused by certain dog breeds. “Find out what those breeds are, and be sure that those breeds are also banned from your site,” he says.
Make Sure Every Pet Is Registered and Approved
Your pet policy, like our Model Agreement, should require residents to submit proof of inoculations, local licenses, verification of being spayed or neutered, and evidence of flea control treatment. But in addition to collecting documentation, it's important that you or a member of your management staff see the pet before giving final approval. Johnson recommends taking a photo of each pet during the screening process and keeping it in the resident's file. This will serve as a record of the pet that has been approved, and will help to prevent residents from bringing in unauthorized pets later.
Editor's Note: The Fair Housing Act exempts animals needed because of a disability from no-pet policies and pet security deposits. See “Follow Fair Housing: Guidelines for Assistance Animals,” on p. 6, for recommendations on handling service and therapy animals.
A.J. Johnson: President, A.J. Johnson Consulting Services, Inc.; (757) 259-9920; http://www.ajjcs.net.
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