When I moved to Orlando in 2013, I had to rent an apartment for the first time in 25 years. It was a wonderful, friendly place. In fact, management didn’t charge me a pet deposit for my two dogs; they didn’t even ask me what kind of dogs I had. Based on my experience, I just assumed that every rental community allowed dogs. I came to learn that nearly 75 percent of rental communities claim to be “pet-friendly” while only accepting very small dogs and cats, which excludes many of our nation’s most popular pets.
Three years later, when I became the executive director of Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando in Florida, it quickly became apparent that many dogs were being surrendered due to breed discrimination and other housing-related matters. Of the 400 calls received daily at our centers, we know that 20 percent are from pet owners inquiring about relinquishing their beloved pets due to rental property restrictions on breed and size. Last year, nearly 1,800 pets were surrendered to the Pet Alliance due to the lack of “pet-friendly” housing.
With that information, we launched the Pet Friendly Apartment Registry. This initiative is designed to expand the number of truly “pet-friendly” rental units, ones that welcome all cats and dogs, regardless of breed or size. Our goal is to have 100 rental communities in the greater Orlando area that have no breed restrictions by 2020. Currently, we have 17 wonderful communities that share our vision, welcoming all cats and dogs with no restrictions on size or breed. Now, we can refer callers to the apartment registry page on our website so people can search for housing alternatives. It’s also a great resource for new adopters or people considering relocation to central Florida.
How do we persuade these apartment complexes to accept everyone’s family members, including pets? First of all, we remind them that there’s an economic benefit for landlords, too! According to a national study* by the Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research and Education Promoting Animal Welfare (FIREPAW), when a complex accepts pets, the pool of qualified applicants increases significantly. HSUS research supports this conclusion, showing that “pet-friendly” policies lead to more qualified applicants, higher occupancy rates and a happier community. Pet owners are more likely to earn more money and remain longer in their rental unit. In fact, renters with pets stay more than twice as long as non-pet owners—46 months versus 18 months. For the apartment complex, this means fewer vacancies and lower administrative costs.
As you know, housing restrictions mostly affect dogs. Remind landlords that there is no proof that large breed dogs cause more damage than smaller breed dogs. According to the FIREPAW study, breed and size restrictions do not improve resident safety, reduce liability or increase property values. Since we know many shelters are taking in fewer small dogs and more medium and large dogs, dropping breed and size restrictions is a win-win for apartment complexes, pet owners, dogs and shelters!
As with any partnership, both parties need to be engaged and committed. This means helping rental communities create a more “pet-friendly” environment and helping residents be considerate pet owners, whether that means encouraging owners to take Milo on nice long walks to burn off that bark-y energy or to bring more than one poop bag in case Sadie decides to go twice (don’t you hate it when that happens?!)
Importantly, Pet Alliance also offers the apartment complex a variety of incentives to choose from—including on-site behavior training, free microchip days, annual mobile unit wellness and spay/neuter resources—that we deliver onsite to their residents. We provide opportunities for fun group volunteer activities in communities or at a Pet Alliance shelter as a way to increase the community engagement at the rental community.
Starting a pet apartment registry isn’t as complicated as it might seem, but it does take some elbow grease. If shelters and volunteers around the country start working with rental communities to eliminate breed restrictions, there will be a noticeable reduction in animals surrendered. Communities with truly “pet-friendly” housing allow pets to stay in their homes. Housing communities that promote informed pet policies keep families together.
I would love to help others start registries in their own communities—feel free to ask questions in the comments below!
Download The HSUS’s free toolkit, An Advocate’s Guide to Pets Are Welcome: Expanding Options for Renters with Pets.
*Carlisle-Frank, P., Frank, J. M., & Nielsen, L. (2005). Companion animal renters and pet-friendly housing in the US. Anthrozoos, 18(1), 59-77. Free download available at FIREPAW.org; contact FIREPAW to request a password to enter the site.