Friday, June 17, 2016

Part II: The Landlord Experience. If you care about pet-friendly housing, this matters.

The pet-friendly housing shortage in the SF Bay Area and most other cities has been crushing our collective ability to keep family dogs in safe, permanent homes and out of animal shelters. Understanding the landlord experience is essential to navigating this trend, but the most recent research we could find on the topic is outdated (Firepaw Study 2005). The landscape has changed quite a bit since that study was published, so we decided to get busy over the past year by speaking with as many different property managers as we could in order to gain some perspective. In addition to phone interviews and email exchanges, we gathered responses from landlords in a twelve question survey that was shared around by local realtors and via our social media page. Our goal was to daylight some of the key factors that influence landlord decisions when accepting or rejecting dogs in their rental properties.

Participants were asked to share their insurance providers, dog breed and/or size restrictions, requirements for dogs and dog owners, yard and shared space usage and obstacles they faced (if any) when making their decisions. We also asked them to describe both positive and negative experiences with renting to dog owners. Finally, all were asked to indicate whether they would be interested in participating in more discussion in our search for solutions to the pet friendly housing shortage. (23% said 'yes,' 55% declined and 21% are on the fence.) To encourage candid survey responses, we agreed to keep landlord identity confidential.

Our burning question behind these efforts: What prevents some landlords from renting to dog owners? And what can we learn from landlords who DO welcome them?

People were very generous with their time and seemed to appreciate our interest. Their responses were rich with inside info and gave us a good grasp of some of the key factors that contribute to pet policy decisions. Here's the thing: While a small number of the participants did not allow dogs on their properties, the majority who did expressed a strong desire to improve their pet policies to ensure a better overall success rate with dog owners. Hopeful, right? We think so too. Learn from the negative, build on the positive.

Who responded?

Of the 69 who responded to our survey, 45 rent to dog owners, 19 accept dogs on a case-by-case basis and three ban dogs outright. Not surprising, the majority who allow dogs are those who rent out single family homes (37) and/or duplexes or triplexes (26). Ten participants counted their rental spaces as 'other' - which included RVs and non-conforming apartments. All but ten property owners reported having fenced yards or patios available for dogs, although a number preferred that tenants not use them as the dogs' main bathroom.

Multi-unit building managers heard from. Eleven in total. We were so happy they shared. Five told us they allow dogs, five allow them on a case-by-case basis and one does not allow them at all. Nine of the 11 multi-unit managers who responded do not have breed restrictions. They're an important group because multi-unit buildings have traditionally held the biggest resistance to pets - targeted breeds in particular. Interested to hear what their experience with pets has been? You should be! Read HERE.

Insurance Providers

Survey participants hold insurance policies with these companies: State Farm (23) / Farmers (7) / AllState (7) / AAA (6) / Liberty Mutual (4) / USAA (4) / Travelers (3) / Pacific Specialty (2) / Sadler (1) / ANPAC (1) / CSAA (1) / Encompass/Safeco (1) / “Several” (3) / Unknown or Declined to Share (6)

What do property owners worry about? ... Their property!

Hands down, the number one concern expressed by landlords came from having experienced property damage and/or nuisance noise from dogs – regardless of breed type. From our blog post 'Bad Apples' - Only three of the landlords we polled mentioned insurance as a potential obstacle to renting to pit bulls and other dogs, and only one had breed restrictions (no reason given). Almost all reported the need for expensive and time consuming repairs after dog owners moved out and/or dogs who disturbed neighbors with noise. One of the happier surprises to us was that most of the survey participants who reported negative experiences still welcome dogs in their rentals.

How are they protecting their interests? Landlords reported these requirements for dog owners. (Can we help them do better?)

  • Additional rent and/or security deposit: 39 (58.21%)
  • Pet Addendum language added to lease: 36 (53.7%)
  • Dog must be spayed/neutered: 34 (50.75%)
  • Meet and approve dog in advance: 33 (49.25%)
  • Dogs must get along with other dogs on property: 16 (23.88%)
  • References for pets from other landlords, etc. required: 12 (17.91)
  • No requirements: 9 (13.43%)
  • Proof of basic obedience training: 6 (8.96%)

Why should we care what landlords think? Read this:

I am a leasing agent and property manager for a 260 unit loft complex. I am currently researching how to create a better pet policy. We currently have a breed restriction and limit large dogs to first floor apartments. I would like to get rid of the breed restriction because I think it is ill-informed and difficult to enforce.
Here is my dilemma. When leasing at such a large scale, it is not feasible for me to evaluate each dog's temperament individually, nor am I really qualified to do so. We would like to encourage responsible dog owners to rent with us but at the same time discourage irresponsible dog owners (which there are unfortunately many of in our area).
We have to establish some sort of consistent guidelines because otherwise we open ourselves up to lawsuits. 

When we listen, we learn

We have renewed faith that a good number of landlords care about their communities and want responsible dog owners to enjoy a lifetime commitment to their family companions.  How do we identify and support them so their numbers grow? We've only scratched the surface of this topic, and it's clear we have a long way to go before more landlords feel comfortable opening their doors to dog owners.

Comments? Questions? Ideas?

Landlords, renters, animal welfare workers: Please join this conversation so we can start to meet the needs of both the landlords who want responsible tenants and the pet owners who so desperately need a place to call home.

GRATITUDE:  Many thanks to everyone who shared their experiences with us. 

More info:
  • Are landlords liable for a tenant's dog's behavior? Not usually. NOLO Press
  • Pet Addendum for use in conjunction with residential lease. Addendum (Need this is a Word Doc? Holler!)
  • BADRAP's best tips for pet owners looking for a home: Renting

Below: A little gallery of insightful feedback from some of the landlords and the pet owners who shared their experiences with us.



Michael Carvalho said...

I am a board member and director with the Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation. Although Miami-Dade County is the only county in FL that has BSL the rest of the state is seriously hampered by homeowners associations and landlords with breed specific policies. One of the approaches we are trying to encourage is a professional evaluation process, where any potential homeowner or renter on they own dime many select from associations/landlord's approved list of dog behaviorists to have their dog evaluated regardless of the breed. This way regardless of the breed you only have approved dogs living there and eliminated potentially problem dogs. I would rather have a well socialized Rottie or Pitty living next door than a poorly socialized Beagle or Retriever. People may also find things out about their own dogs they were not aware of.

Donna said...

Thanks for the comment and your ongoing work in Miami, Michael. Helping landlords identify dog owners who are responsible and well versed in proper management would be a huge help to them when they have a pile of applications and no background in dog behavior, etc. I wonder though if basing rental decisions on evaluation results could turn out to be a double edged sword. As I'm sure you'd agree, a dog with behavior issues can be beautifully managed by a committed owner while a rock solid dog can be a jerk if his owner isn't conscientious. Have you thought of ways to circumvent that concern? I appreciate your feedback because I know you're in the thick of it!