It doesn't take unusually strong powers of observation or the nose of a hound dog to see that Americans are obsessed with their pets. Myself included.
Even the briefest scrolls through your social media feeds are bound to reveal an image or two of someone's beloved fur ball, while an outing to the local park will almost certainly bring you in close contact with canines of every conceivable shape and size.
Your eyes do not deceive you. According to an American Pet Products Association survey, 65 percent of U.S. households—about 79.7 million families—own a pet.
What does this mean for the multifamily industry? The days of “no pets allowed,” weight limits and restricted pet policies in buildings have gone the way of the wooly mammoth. To have a competitive advantage, apartment managers must make their communities pet-friendly by not only allowing pets in the first place, but also by offering the kinds of amenities that make it easy for renters to care for them.
Managers also have to bear in mind that the residents who do not own a pet might not be thrilled about our four-legged friends, who can be a little noisy and leave messes that their owners don't always clean up. Making sure that dogs and cats don't detract from the quality of life of residents who don't own pets can be one of the challenges of managing a multifamily community.
With careful and thoughtful planning, however, apartment managers can create communities in which everyone feels welcome.
Satisfying both groups
To attract today's pet owners, apartment communities should have the kinds of amenities that allow renters to give their animals a truly outstanding quality of life.
Such amenities could include dog-washing stations and upscale off-leash parks. Dog-washing stations are designed with canine comfort in mind and have the added benefit of preventing pipe clogs and even floods inside apartments by giving owners a place other than their bathtubs to wash their dogs. The stations are specifically designed to properly manage the dog hair that inevitably clogs the bathtub drain. Not to mention, they're easier on your wardrobe and knees!
Today, off-leash dog parks with log tunnels, balance beams and wood ramps for dogs to play on are the rage with canine residents. Other features might include water stations, attractive landscaping, energy-efficient LED lighting, double-gated entrances and exits and curved enclosures (no right angles) to help prevent “dog-clog” and injuries. Not only do these parks offer dogs a great setting to play with other canines and get their much-needed daily dose of exercise, they give pet-owning residents the chance to socialize and develop friendships that might encourage lease renewals.
Apartment managers can do a number of small things as well to make pet owners feel at home. For instance, as part of our JVM Pet-Iquette program, our pet residents receive move-in gifts, are able to get complimentary treats from the leasing office at any time and are regularly invited to pet social events. We also frequently feature our residents' dogs and cats on our communities' Facebook pages, and we are happy to assist new residents when finding a vet or a pet store.
Still, when rolling out the welcome mats for pet owners, apartment managers can't forget about those residents who don't own animals and might not be that thrilled about sharing a community with them. To ensure that non-pet owners have a quality living experience as well, managers should take the following steps:
• Provide pet-waste bags and pet-waste stations with disposal baskets throughout your communities. Few things are more frustrating to non-pet owners than people who don't clean up after their dogs. Pet-waste stations make it easy for pet owners to do so.
• Don't let them roam. Dogs running loose in a community might scare residents who don't own pets, and canines that roam free are obviously at risk of getting hit by a car. Speak straight with owners who don't keep their pets on a leash or who tie their pets to any fixed object outside their homes.
• Be proactive about noisy animals. If a resident complains about a barking dog, provide the owner with contact information for nearby training services that can help them correct the issue. Better yet, partner with a local trainer to hold classes on site every month and invite the pet and his or her owner to the class.
The bond between people and their pets is strong. This presents both opportunities and challenges for apartment building operators. With the right amenities and policies in place, everyone—pet lovers, their animals and those without pets—can get along just fine.
Mary L. Herrold serves as vice president of marketing and innovation for JVM Realty Corp., an Oak Brook, Ill.-based apartment investment and management firm.