Increase Lease Renewals with Pet Inclusive Practices

Vanquishing the Myths on Pet Size Restrictions

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This article originally appeared on Multifamily Insiders.

There is no disputing that apartment operators have experienced a significant increase in emotional support animal accommodation requests in recent years. These can be a source of stress for onsite teams, but they don’t have to be.

What’s often misunderstood is that policing these requests isn’t the best solution.

Many ESA requests involve large dogs and what some apartment operators categorize as dangerous breeds. For residents with legitimate ESA documentation, the restrictions don’t apply. But residents who don’t have ESA documentation for their pets in the restricted categories are prevented from living with their pet at many apartment communities.

In an effort to keep their pets, some of these residents understandably feel compelled to take action. After all, 92% of residents believe pets are an important part of the family and 93% of property managers also agree, according to the
Pet-Inclusive Housing Initiative, a research and resource development initiative that promotes access to the joy of pets.

While it has been assumed that some will attempt to get the pet verified as a service animal, others might try to sneak it into the community, while another small percentage will attempt to utilize fraudulent documentation. According to the Assistance Animals in Housing Report by PetScreening, less than 1% of animal accommodation requests meet the definition of fraud, although 36% are returned as insufficient.

This is where it gets difficult for onsite teams, which must sort through the various ESA requests and determine which of them are fully compliant.

But there are ways to resolve this challenge.

By eliminating size and breed restrictions, apartment operators can reduce insufficient emotional support animal requests. Residents with pets won't feel compelled to designate their would-be restricted pets as emotional support animals, Instead, they will pay rent regularly and continue to enjoy the company of their beloved pet. Apartment operators will experience the dual benefit of increased pet-related revenue by allowing this new pet demographic.

Another component of the rental-housing industry’s quest to move past any ESA accommodation request consternation involves training teams on ESA friendliness. Teams should be trained to treat each case as valid—as noted, cases of attempted ESA fraud are extremely low—and remove any preexisting biases. Just because an animal is large or falls into a common restricted category, it doesn’t exclude it from being a verified support animal. Let the verification process unfold before making any judgments.

Additionally, don’t ignore the human component. Individuals with ESAs typically have been through something traumatic, whether it’s the death of a loved one, an accident or a medical condition. Onsite teams that exhibit compassion rather than skepticism will help shape the resident’s initial impression of the community, which could have a long-lasting positive effect. We’ll discuss this in more detail during The Impact of the Emotional Support Animal Friendly Community panel discussion during the National Apartment Association’s 2020 APTVirtual Conference at 2:50 p.m. EST on Nov. 3.

Properties have generally done a good job on this front, as the PIHI data indicates 95% of residents claim their property manager gets along with their pet and 86% of property managers believe they have a positive relationship with most of their pet-owning residents.

The next step is to reduce restrictions to help ensure a smooth ESA request process.

This article originally appeared on Multifamily Insiders.

Apartment Lease Renewal Incentives

The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges with lease renewals for the apartment industry. One of the lasting impacts will be the pausing of renewal rate increases.

Recent data from Entrata indicates that lease renewals have been on a trending decline. As of July 8, renewals have slowed to 44% down 14 percent year over year and 11 percent since May.

With renewal rates declining, now is the time for apartment operators to look for new ways to deploy innovative renewal offers. One innovative technique forward-thinking operators are implementing is easing pet restrictions.

Easing Pet Restrictions

On the surface, this change might seem minor. But, easing pet restrictions can have a big impact on demand for apartment housing. As more residents are looking for pets to give them company while spending more time at home, they’re also looking for pet-friendly housing for whatever pet they want to adopt.

According to research from the Pet Inclusive Housing Initiative, a research and resource development initiative that promotes access to the joy of pets, residents in pet-friendly units stay 21% longer versus non-pet friendly units. With the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic, more residents are submitting assistance animal accommodation requests for emotional support animals. By reducing pet restrictions, residents know the pet they adopt can live at the apartment without special designations. And most studies show they’re willing to pay pet deposits and rent.

But reducing pet restrictions isn’t the only innovative way to leverage your pet-friendly community to improve renewal rates. There are several more:

Communicate Pet Policies

When sending out renewal letters, highlight the terms of the lease that include pets. In the process, consider waiving pet rent for one month for signing a renewal to entice them to sign an offer that might be more lucrative for the operator in the long run. In addition, operators could consider providing pet rent relief for those impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Communicating pet policies also fosters a safe and responsible environment for pets and their owners. By posting signs about noise, reminding owners of their responsibility to pick up after their pet and the community leash policy, all residents will feel more comfortable living at a pet inclusive community.

Reinforcing these policies might also allow residents to come forward with new pets that they did not have at the time of the lease signing.

Welcome New Pet Residents

Another way to build community and increase attachment among pet owners is to properly welcome any new pet residents to your community. Apartment managers can announce and introduce new pets on social media sites or in a community newsletter. You can also throw pet-welcome parties or adoption events via Zoom or in-person when the pandemic is over.

With the trend in lease renewals decreasing month over month and year over year, now is the time to dial into renewal best practices and look for ways to increase renewal rates. By creating a more welcoming environment for pets at apartment communities, owner/operators pave the way for increased renewal rates, lower exposure and decreased vacancy loss.

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