Pet Wars: Apartments Strike Back

by 29 Apr 2013

Apartment owners and managers are fighting tooth and claw to dispel the myth that multifamily living is unfriendly to pets, a longstanding motivation that has driven pet-lovers to become homeowners.

A recent Apartments.com survey, released a week before National Pet Week, fund that 75 percent of renters surveyed today are pet owners, compared to 43 percent in 2012. 

Half of the pet-loving renters surveyed by Apartments.com would like to believe their fellow apartment residents also adore their four-legged companions.  Fortunately, it turns out they are not far off, as nearly 60 percent of renters who do not own pets said they still enjoy living around others with pets.

"Nearly 80 percent of our survey respondents live in a pet-friendly building, indicating both landlords and residents without pets are increasingly recognizing that pet owners are, for the most part, responsible and respectful neighbors," said Tammy Kotula, public relations and promotions manager, Apartments.com. "However, more than 60 percent of the renters also said they faced some level of difficulty in finding accommodations for them and their pets. Fortunately, renters can tailor search results to only show apartments that allow their beloved furry friends on websites such as Apartments.com."

While nearly 65 percent of the pet owners surveyed said they live in a two bedroom apartment or larger, many indicated they were ambivalent to the size of their space when choosing a pet. In fact, more than 75 percent said the size of their apartment only played "some importance" to "no difference" when picking a pet. 

Not so long ago, the picture for pets in rentals wasn’t so bright.  A widely  publicized 2010 study by the Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research and Education Promoting Animal Welfare (FIREPAW), found that despite years of concerted efforts by veterinarian groups, humane societies, the pet food industry, and pet-loving tenants, at least 50 percent of rentals prohibit all pets, and many of those that do allow them charge a fee. Pet fees ranged from flat fees of $20 to $700 and monthly surcharges of $6 to $25. The most-often quoted monthly charge for a pet is $15, while the average up-front fee is about $225, with $100 being the most-often quoted fee. Large dogs often translate into higher fees, as well.

Yet in a national survey released in two years ago, the fifth-ranking reason that people buy homes today was found to be “They Don’t Want to Pay Extra to Own Pets.” This reason outranked “They Want to Live the American Dream” and trailed “They Want More Space.”

Response to the FIREPAW study was so strong among tenants with animals and professionals within the animal welfare arena that it resulted in the development of the Companion Animal Renters Program, a free consulting service designed to assist landlords considering going pet-friendly. The Companion Animal Renters Study and subsequent training program for landlords and rental property managers were the driving force behind this book.

More and more landlords are coming to terms with pets in their properties.  The Apartments.com study found that 63 percent of pet owners are required to pay a pet deposit. In fact, a majority spend more than $150 annually in deposits and/or monthly fees.

However, deposits and fees do not always cover every type of pet. Renters should be specific in clarifying what types of pets are allowed, as pet restrictions vary from one apartment building to another. In fact, only 28 percent of renters surveyed said they live in a building that has no restrictions on what type of pet they are allowed to have.

"Understandably, nearly all pet owners surveyed said pet policies play a major role in their decision of where to live. Clearly, pets are a deal breaker for many, and apartment buildings with more flexible pet policies will be the ones to attract this growing group of pet-owning renters, and possibly, keep them for a longer period of time," said Kotula.

However, homeownership advocates still lay the pet card because pet owners fit the target demographics for homeownership perfectly. Pet people are more likely to be traditional families; they are slightly younger than the average homeowner, and significantly more pet owners are married.

“One of the reasons these people may be happier is that as homeowners they can have pets.  Sasha Farmer said in her experience, pets are a big reason people buy a home. To get an idea of what pet owning renters face, Farmer did a quick search of one MLS area and found listings for 122 rental homes.  Of these only 23 allowed pets. Even in homes that allow pets, the landlords routinely require a large deposit, and the residence may or may not have a properly fenced yard,” reports the Charlotte Association of Realtors.

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