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AIM 2021 Session Recap: Pets: Love, Marketing, and Lifetime Value

We love claiming to be pet-friendly.

We love it because we know the marketing power of promoting pet-friendliness in today’s pet obsessed marketplace. But are we as pet-friendly as we could be? Are we leaving money on the table by putting too many qualifications on pets?  According to the American Pet Products Association, there are more pets in the U.S. than children. In fact, 67% of U.S. households own a pet and approximately $99 billion was spent on the pet industry over the past year. 

During the 2021 AIM session Pet Love and Marketing, expert panelists discussed the reasons that multifamily operators should rethink pet policies and restrictions, and how removing breed and weight restrictions can increase renter demand and open up new revenue streams.

“If you look at the top 10 breeds according to the American Kennel Club, you see six of them wouldn’t be able to live in your community based on breed or weight restrictions,” said Judy Bellack, industry principal for Michelson Found Animals. “So right out the gate a lot of owners and operators are reducing their rental pool by a great deal.”

Over the course of the pandemic, more residents are acquiring pets but policies are not keeping up. According to the Michelson Found Animals PIHI report, 76% of operators say they’re pet-friendly yet 72% of residents say pet-friendly housing is hard to find.

“With the pandemic, the industry has taken some small steps to change, but we really have an opportunity to step back and figure out some of the paradigms holding us back from being truly pet-friendly,” said Melanie Flaherty, senior vice president of marketing for Carmel Partners. “If we rethink about pets and how we strategically plan policies, that will impact the bottomline.”

That’s exactly what Jamin Harkness, executive vice president of The Management Group, did for his communities.

“Two years ago, we got rid of all breed restrictions and weight limits and we also decided no pet rent,” he said. “But 80% of our residents that have pets renew, and I’ll take that over a monthly pet rent. I’ll save it on having less vacancies.”

To attract and retain pet-owning residents, panelists suggested investing in pet amenities, such as dog parks and pet spas. By doing so, you're not only catering to pet owners, you’re protecting other areas of the community for all residents. 

“We had a tennis court that was rarely being used so I retrofitted it and made it a dog park. It’s now used more than the pool. People host yappy hours and they love it,” Harkness said. 

Panelists noted that while many operators keep restrictions in place due to insurance policies and breed restrictions within the policies, things are changing.

“The fact of the matter is that many of the major insurance providers have eliminated that, because there is zero data to support that there’s any such thing as a dangerous breed,” Bellack said. “There may be dangerous dogs and irresponsible pet owners, but there are no dangerous breeds.”

Panelists advised operators to check with insurance providers and determine if they have breed restrictions. If they do and you lift them, there may be a higher rate but what you get on the backend will offset those costs.

“If you continue to have breed restrictions, what you’re going to see is the same breeds onsite but they’re coming to you as some type of assistance animal,” said John Bradford, founder and chief executive officer of PetScreening. “Because under HUDs Fair Housing Act restrictions do not apply to assistance animals.”

Data is crucial in making these decisions and staying informed. Even the CDC reversed its stance on breed restrictions decades ago because there is no data to support them.

The right data can help make appropriate changes responsibly. It will also help weed out the bad actors and fraudulent ESA requests. The PIHI report found that 11% of residents have a pet even if not allowed, equating to $1.5 billion in missed fees.

“When you restrict breeds, you’re really restricting yourself from revenue channels,” Bellack said.  

By allowing pets, operators not only fill vacancies faster and residents stay longer, but also create a new stream of revenue.

Here is the replay:

  • Judy Bellack, Industry Principal at Michelson Found Animals Foundation
  • Jamin Harkness, EVP & Partner at The Management Group
  • Melanie Flaherty, SVP of Marketing at Carmel Partners
  • John Bradford, CEO & Founder of Petscreening.com

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