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Opening the Door to More Pet-Friendly Housing

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News flash! A recent survey shows that pet owners make excellent, responsible tenants. They stay longer, get along well with their neighbors, and take the responsibility of their pets seriously, resulting in far less property damage than is purported to occur. Plus, most pet parents pay for such damage out of their own pockets! So why are landlords still slow to embrace this awesome economic opportunity, resulting in a shortage of pet-friendly living places in all price brackets?

When Darren Johnson moved to San Francisco and started looking for an apartment to rent, top of his priority list was a pet-friendly building that included a dog park so that it was both convenient and safe to take his dog Rosie out for a late-night pee.

“I only looked at buildings where she would be welcome, which limited my search and while the rent was a bit over my initial budget, the building I chose has turned out to be a great decision. It has a secure dog park with plenty of place to run. There’s a grooming station with shampoo provided. All I have to bring is a towel,” he says.

“Another big plus is that she is welcome everywhere in the outdoor communal areas, which include an outdoor kitchen entertaining area and lots of leafy nooks with cabana-style beds where we can both curl up in front of a fire pit and just hang out. The peace of mind along with the facilities make it worth every cent.”

Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative

While San Francisco is generally pet friendly, finding suitable pet accommodation, just like in other major metropolitan areas, can be a challenge. To delve into the problem and try and expand the pet-friendly rental market nationally, the Michelson Found Animals Foundation in conjunction with HABRI—the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative—commissioned a market research study. The resulting Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative has produced the following facts and figures: 

  • Two out of every three American homes now have pets.
  • Over 90 percent of landlord, property rental operators, and residents (including those without pets) agree that pets are important members of the family.
  • A rental’s pet policy ranks second only to budget when pet parents search for a home.
  • Pet parents will compromise on the number of bedrooms, the desired neighborhood, the outdoor space/yard size, and the distance to their work or children’s schools. It’s all about having their furry family member legally in their home.
  • 83 percent of owner/operators say pet-friendly vacancies can be filled faster.
  • Residents in pet-friendly units stay 21 percent longer versus non-pet-friendly units.

All positive stuff, that potentially should be seen as an economic boost for the rental housing market, with a trickle down to more pet-friendly units available, right? However, the Michelson Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative also highlights that while 76 percent of rental owners and operators consider themselves pet-friendly, 72 percent of residents say pet-friendly housing is still hard to find.

What Does Pet-Friendly Mean?

So why is pet-friendly rental accommodation still a nationwide problem? The primary reason for this disconnect is the definition of pet-friendly and, more specifically, say those lobbying this cause, this zeros in on a property’s pet restrictions.

“Breed restrictions and number of pets are the biggest stumbling blocks,” says Steve Feldman, CEO of HABRI. “There’s no data that different breeds cause more damage than others or that the size of the pet makes it more disruptive. In fact, if you want a quiet animal, choose a Great Dane over a Jack Russell any day!

“Also, if one pet is allowed, it’s probably okay to allow two cats or dogs; nine may not be appropriate. But some of these basic restrictions can certainly be comfortably expanded for everyone’s benefit.

“It’s all about education, as research has shown that very few pets actually cause damage. In fact, nine percent of pet parents pay for any damage their pet may have caused out of their own pockets. Only two percent had something deducted from their security deposits. There are more complaints in a building about young noisy adults than there are about pets. In fact, pets allow people to connect with their neighbors. That’s just what we need right now. Pets enhance our lives in so many ways,” he adds.

“So, moving forward, our strategy is to familiarize landlords about different breeds and weights so that these restrictions will be a thing of the past.”

Feldman doesn’t want to beat apartment owners and operators over the head about their current policies. The goal is to take a friendly approach by pointing out that pet-friendly policies are something landlords should want to embrace. Pet owners stay longer, and pet-friendly units are easier to fill.

“With rental moratoriums coming to an end post-pandemic, there is bound to be disruption in the housing marketplace,” he says. Being pet-friendly can offer an economic advantage to both individual landlords and large-scale property operators.

“Our goal is to use existing market forces and data to highlight the advantages. As far as pet owners are concerned, we are also going to focus on the benefit of ensuring that they are doing everything right in their eyes of a potential landlord namely, ensuring that pets are well behaved and vaccinated so that the positive spin-off will be making more homes for pets available.”

The Pet-Inclusive Initiative Goes to Washington

Feldman is also taking the pet rental housing issue to the lawmakers of the land. Every year, HABRI hosts a popular event in Washington DC called Pet Week, an opportunity for pet industry leaders, the veterinary community, animal welfare advocates, and research organizations to deliver the message to Congress that pets are important for human health and quality of life and further present scientific evidence that shows how policies that strengthen the human-animal bond can improve wellbeing for both people and companion animals. This October, the Michelson Found Animals’ Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative report is on the agenda.

Putting the Emphasis on Friendly in Pet-Friendly

Lobbying for pet causes at the highest levels in in both corporate America and government circles alongside Feldman is Mark Cushing, CEO of Animal Policy Group and author of Pet Nation: The Love Affair that Changed America. Cushing believes that not only are pets family, but “they are the medicine America needs now for individuals and communities to feel better and do better.”

In his book, Cushing writes, “Our federal government encourages a variety of behaviors to promote human wellness and better health: It creates anti-smoking initiatives, exercise programs, encourages annual checkups, good nutrition and less junk food. These benefit from direct funding, tax credits or tax deductions, so why not add pet ownership and veterinary care to the list?

“Cities and counties should legislate that all apartments be pet-friendly, meaning that a tenant can have at least one pet, along with rules and safeguards to keep life comfortable for other tenants.”

He adds that apartment developers shouldn’t object either; they can always keep sections of a residential complex pet-free to satisfy everyone.

“When local leaders discover that 65 to 70 percent of their constituents (voters) own and care greatly about pets, then things will change. I predict great success and impact over the next five years,” he promises.

Cushing says such discussions are already happening on all levels. This year, Pet Week in Washington is a well-timed opportunity to get the message to the “right people.”

The Most Pet-Friendly Rental Cities

Cushing currently ranks Philadelphia as America’s most pet-friendly rental city, as 95 percent of its urban apartments welcome pets. Runners-up are Fort Lauderdale (82 percent), Charlotte, (76 percent), Denver (73 percent), Portland, Oregon (72 percent), Phoenix (68 percent), Las Vegas (66 percent), Seattle (63 percent), Boston (61 percent), and Oklahoma City (60 percent).

“I am surprised that cities such as San Diego only rank at 49 percent, Atlanta at 33 percent, and Austin comes in really low at 28 percent,” he adds.

What You Can Expect to Pay to Rent With a Pet

Laws governing landlords with regard to pet deposits and fees vary by state. Apartments.com, one of the nation’s largest rental operators spells it out succinctly on its website: https://www.apartments.com/rental-manager/resources/state-laws.

Some landlords charge a pet fee when renters apply for the property, in the same way they charge to run your credit and check your references. For a pet parent, this is an opportunity to present references to show your pet is well behaved and healthy. For dogs who have passed the AKC Canine Good Citizen test, the certificate will be a plus.

Landlords may also charge a deposit to cover any pet-related damage to the apartment or communal areas.

It’s also common for landlords to charge pet rent, which can vary from $10 to $100 a month.

The green area with the path and benches is a secure designated dog park.

“If the building is offering amenities like a private dog park with poop bag stations, a fully equipped grooming station, and maintains the property as a truly pet friendly environment, then both the pets and their owners are getting something for it, which we hope would be the case,” says Feldman.

Cushing concurs. “I have no problem with these charges. I encourage the private market to experiment; this is the basic law of economics — supply and demand. And, if folks don’t like it then, they need to vote with their wallets.”

Playing Ball

Pet parents need to play their part in future change, too. Apart from basic pet etiquette, while pets are indeed family, that doesn’t automatically qualify them to be a service dog or an emotional support animal. So, no more bogus papers!

Recently, laws with regard to air travel tightened differentiating between genuine service dogs and what a pet parent deems to be their emotional support pooch, pig or peacock. Sadly, some pet owners took advantage to get their pet to fly free. It’s important to pay for the privilege to take your cat or dog on a plane. This way, if there is an emergency, they are a bona fide passenger and will be afforded help if needed.

Similarly, pet parents have to step up and play ball with regard to pets in rental homes. If a landlord doesn’t have a recognized policy, lobby to have your pet included. Present a positive case for your pet. And again, play by the rules in a situation that does allow pets. In the long run, doing so will open more doors and ensure more welcome mats for pets in rentals everywhere.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle journalist and author of For the Love of Cats, Fabulous Felines: Health and Beauty Secrets for the Pampered Cat, The Original Cat Bible, and Making the Most of All Nine Lives: The Extraordinary Life of Buffy The Cat.

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