Calendar icon December 20, 2023

Pet Screening 101: How Top Property Managers Do It

Pet screening: it’s a big part of a property manager’s responsibilities, but – as any PM will say – it can also be a major headache.

More residents have pets now than ever before. According to the 2023-2024 American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) National Pet Owner Survey, 66% of U.S. households own a pet.

That means property managers are dealing with pets more often than not. On the flip side, investor clients may be reticent to allow pets on their properties.

The result? It can be tough to fill vacancies in properties where pets aren’t allowed or the screening standards are too restrictive. So, how do you handle these situations? How do you push for more pet-friendly policies if you need to fill vacancies? How do you protect yourself and your investors from risk?

In this article, we’re sharing the best advice we’ve gotten about pet screening, why it’s important to do it well, the steps to a good pet screening process, and a pet screening checklist.

What is pet screening?

Pet screening is the thorough evaluation of a prospective tenant's pet before approving their lease application. Essentially, it’s a pet background check. It's not just about keeping furry friends out of your pristine property; it's about minimizing risks, following any service animal requirements and ensuring you are protected from any potential damage.

A thoughtful pet screening process allows you to delve into the true compatibility between a pet, its owner, and your rental property – and to ensure you’re prepared for any associated risks. 

A note about assistance animals: It’s important to distinguish that we’re talking about pets not assistance animals. If you’re dealing with an assistance animal, you should not have the word “pet” anywhere on the lease. This may sound odd to laypeople, but an assistance animal is legally considered a disability device, not a pet. Assistance animals include service animals, emotional support animals, etc. 

How you deal with assistance animals – both service and support – is guided by your local laws. Property managers should familiarize themselves with the Fair Housing Act, specifically the FHEO-2020-01 Assistance Animals Notice from HUD, for guidance on assistance animals. These animals are regulated through guidance by the ADA and ESA. 

But for animals that are simply there as beloved pets, you need to set up your own standards for pet screening – and understand where reasonable accommodation must be made.

 

download rental inspection checklist template

 

Why is pet screening important?

Properly setting expectations and standards for pets – and screening any new pets at the home you manage – creates a number of benefits for you, the resident, and the investor. 

Here’s why it’s so important:

Property protection

One of the primary reasons for pet screening is to protect the property from potential damage. 

Pets can sometimes cause significant wear and tear beyond the usual scope, like scratched floors, damaged fixtures, or stained carpets. By conducting a thorough pet screening, property managers can assess the risk each pet poses to the property. This process often involves checking the pet’s breed, size, temperament, and history of behavior. 

Understanding these factors helps in making informed decisions about whether to permit the pet and setting appropriate pet deposits or pet rent to cover potential damages.

Neighborhood comfort and safety

Ensuring the safety and comfort of your residents – and their impact on the neighborhood – is a top priority, and pet screening plays a crucial role in this. 

Some pets may pose a safety risk, especially if they have a history of aggression. By screening pets, property managers can prevent potentially dangerous situations, ensuring that you don’t end up having to deal with complaints or legal repercussions

Other pets may simply be a nuisance. Excessive barking in the backyard can bring noise complaints, etc.

Risk mitigation

Pet screening is a proactive measure to mitigate various risks associated with allowing pets on the property. These risks include potential legal liabilities in case of pet-related incidents, such as bites or property damage. 

Having a detailed pet policy and screening process in place can protect the property management company from legal disputes and financial losses. Moreover, it ensures that pet owners are responsible and aware of their obligations, which include taking care of their pets.

Incorporating a comprehensive pet screening process not only safeguards the physical property but also contributes to the overall well-being and safety of the home, neighbors, etc.

How to conduct a pet screening

According to Victoria Cowart, Director of Education and Outreach at PetScreening.com, the most important factor in your pet screening process is consistency. 

“The best policies are the ones consistently applied,” Cowart says. “That’s the greatest challenge I see in the industry.”

Here are the steps to a successful pet screening process.

1. Document all pet rules and regulations

Start with establishing the rules on your properties. Remember, you should be consistent in how those rules are applied across all of your portfolio, so don't make a rule unless you’re willing to enforce it equally. 

Make sure that all prospective residents are clear on the rules, restrictions, and fees associated with pet ownership. Do you charge a pet fee like a pet deposit fee? Make that clear from the start.

2. Have the right tools at your disposal

While the pet screening process is very precise and should be taken seriously, you can also use tools and third-party services to help make it easier. PetScreening.com is one pet screening service that supports property managers in pet screening. 

Instead of leaving you with all the decisions to make, Pet Screening does it all for you. They have an in-depth questionnaire and screening process. In the end, they provide you with a FIDO score that assesses everything you need to know about the pet.

3. Provide a pet screening application

For any prospective residents who are pet owners, the next step is to have them start the application process. This is the key part of the pet screening process. 

When outlining the content of your pet screening application, Cowart says to focus on two pillars: liability and responsibility. Liability will focus on the animal’s history. Responsibility is more like a “tenant screening” that will focus on the owner’s habits. 

“You need to know how much the resident is doing to ensure their pet doesn’t have an adverse impact on the rental and on the community,” says Cowart. “Are they picking up after their animal? Do they walk them on a leash? Do they take them to the vet regularly?”  

The application should include pet profile details like:

  • Age
  • Height and weight
  • Breed/type of pet
  • Medical history
  • Spayed/Neutered
  • Length of ownership
  • Housetraining status
  • History of obedience training
  • Behavioral issues
  • Vaccination status (and proof of vaccination)
  • Previous history of aggression
  • Veterinarian information

(See our full checklist below for more.)

Many property managers focus on breed restrictions, but the evidence shows that breed is less of a factor in a pet’s behavior than you might think. The animal’s history and the owner’s behavior are more important to look for red flags of whether a dog is aggressive or not. Breed or weight questions should always include greater context.

4. Conduct a pet interview

Not all property managers will feel the need to do this. However, having a member of your team meet the animal in person may be something your investor-clients want or that you feel helps establish a better relationship and limit liability. 

This is also more common in apartment complexes or multifamily housing. For single-family property managers, the pet interview isn’t necessarily as important. 

However, if you do conduct a pet interview, it’s important to confirm that the pet you’re meeting matches the description in the application. Pay attention to how well it listens, how it approaches you, and whether it shows any signs of aggression.

5. Ensure you are complying with all laws

Before approving or denying a pet, do a final check to make sure you’re following all local, state, and federal laws. This is most important when considering assistance animals. Even homes with a no-pet policy will often need to accept assistance animals.

6. Include pet rules in the lease

You should have a pet addendum ready for your lease signing. Walk the new residents through these. They shouldn’t be surprised by anything if you follow Step 1 and are clear with them on rules and fees from the beginning. If you require a pet security deposit, that should be given at this time as well.

7. Make sure pets are covered through insurance

A big reason people deny pets is because they feel unsure about the risks and they don’t have a way of addressing them. That’s what insurance is for, but here’s the rub: A lot of pet owner policies exclude a lot of breeds, which can limit the number of residents you can approve at your properties. 

At Second Nature, we provide a renter’s insurance program that covers dog bits for all dog breeds. It’s one of the few programs on the market that doesn’t include breed restrictions. Second Nature’s renter’s insurance program (a part of our Resident Benefits Package) covers all breeds that the property manager approves. 

What are the benefits? Residents with household pets have stronger lease retention than residents without pets as a group. Furthermore, residents with aggressive breed dogs have a higher lease retention than residents in general. Fewer properties are available to those residents because most people are saying no to their pets.

You can be the one who says yes – and gets a happier resident who wants to stay longer and be a responsible pet owner. With the right coverage, you can:

  • allow more residents to apply
  • reduce vacancy costs
  • fill homes faster
  • have a stronger lease retention over time
  • increase opportunities for ancillary revenue. 

It’s a win for the pet owner, a win for you, and a win for your clients.

 

Happier residents

 

Pet screening checklist

Here’s a brief checklist to help you keep track of what you need to know about pets. Share this with prospective residents to help them prepare what they’ll need.

  • Pet Resume:
    • Include your pet’s breed, age, weight, and a brief description of their temperament.
    • Mention any training your pet has received, especially obedience or socialization training.
  • Vaccination and Health Records:
    • Provide up-to-date vaccination records.
    • Include any regular flea, tick, and worm prevention treatments.
  • Spay/Neuter Confirmation:
    • If applicable, provide documentation confirming your pet is spayed or neutered.
  • Behavioral Information:
    • Disclose any known behavioral issues and the steps you’re taking to address them.
    • Include information about your pet’s typical behavior around people and other animals.
  • References:
    • Provide references from previous landlords or neighbors, especially if you’ve lived in a rental with your pet before.
    • A letter from a veterinarian attesting to your pet’s good health and behavior can also be helpful.
  • Pet License:
    • Show proof of a current pet license, if required by local laws.
  • Pet Insurance:
    • Consider obtaining pet insurance that covers any damages your pet might cause.
    • Second Nature provides this as part of a Resident Benefits Package. Residents can opt into the coverage or provide their own. 
  • Photos of Your Pet:   
    • Include recent photographs of your pet for easy identification.
  • Agreement to Rules and Regulations:
    • Acknowledge and agree to any pet policies or rules set by the property management.

Final thoughts

Pet screening doesn’t have to be a major headache. With the right tools and a standardized process, you can make it easier on your team and easier on prospective residents. The goal, after all, is to find residents who will care well for their pet and the property – and hopefully stay for the long term.

At Second Nature, we provide extensive pet coverage in our Resident Benefits Package. The goal is to reduce liability for you and make it easier to accept good pets, regardless of their breed. Rest easy knowing you and your residents are covered.

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Property management software is currently helping property managers establish efficient and reliable processes at a higher rate than ever before in the PM industry. With that development in the proptech industry has come the development of tech for self-managers that has changed the capacity of the accidental landlord. Thus, the demand for efficiency at scale has risen in order to separate the professional from the amateur, and the establishment of processes that allow such a thing has become a critical topic for professional property managers. Optimizing property management processes Carter Fleck of Triton Property Management, a growth-oriented firm out of northern Virginia that is approaching 300 units with larger goals for 2024, joins us to share his expertise on process definition. Fleck is the General Manager responsible for operations and strategic growth, and he has been developing effective processes to ensure efficiency at Scale at Triton, and in the process, he has garnered an understanding of how to do so. “A lot of failing,” says Fleck. “In the early days, we were getting a lot of good and bad feedback, but typically the bad feedback is what you adjust off of.” Fleck believes that assumptions are the enemy when it comes to defining procedures and sourcing software for your PMC. “The image that we use is if you're going to build a sidewalk before people even start walking on a field, it's kind of dumb. You have to see where people will walk first, and then you'll build a gravel path. So number one, you see where they walk, see where their intentions are in the grass, then you build a gravel path. 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So when we were choosing a rent inspection software, we had so many people recommend one, software and I, we almost pulled the trigger on it. But then I was like, let's do a trial run on both these two. And we chose the other one because it was way better user experience for property managers. So user experience, both for us and for residents." Tech is a tool that is ultimately as good as its users, and if it's not used correctly or at all, its potential is wasted. An over-reliance on technology can actually go hand-in-hand with an under-reliance, as both often spring up from a lack of understanding of how to choose, implement, and manage it. In this vein, Fleck can't recall many property managers who operate with too much tech. As long as you're not purchasing redundant software and you've done and continue to do your due diligence, tech-based process can make your business more efficient. "I more often find myself having that conversation," says Fleck. 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Calendar icon April 19, 2024

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Why offer a tenant benefits package?

In the residential real estate sector, like everywhere else, residents and property investors alike are getting younger – and with this generational shift comes expectations for a certain level of convenience and support. To put it bluntly, today’s residents want their needs proactively anticipated. It’s something they're willing to pay (and stay) for. That’s where a tenant benefits package comes in. In this article, we’ll explore what a tenant benefit package is, how it improves the experience for both property managers and tenants, and crucial mistakes to avoid. Before we get into the details, we want to give a shoutout to our very own “Resident Benefits Package” – which is how we refer to the benefits comprised in the “tenant benefits package.” “Tenant” is not yet a legacy term, but we here at Second Nature are trying to evolve it. That’s because, in our experience, property managers work hard to make renters feel like they’re not just parties to a contract – they’re residents. On one hand, this is just humans being humans, but on the other hand, it also encourages them to invest in care for their new home and add value to the property. Ready to get started now? Build your Resident Benefits Package today. What is a tenant benefits package? A tenant benefits package is typically a bundle of services, conveniences, and provisions offered by a property manager on top of the basic lease agreement. They represent a triple-win situation for property managers, residents, and property owners, as they enhance the overall rental experience, generate additional income, and protect the real estate investment. It might include conveniences such as online monthly rent payment options, or portals for submitting maintenance requests and tracking their status. It could also include various financial perks, such as credit rating improvements that are contingent on on-time rental payments, or discounts on nearby services such as fitness centers. It might also include amenities ranging from move-in concierge or utility set-up services, to identity protection services, to HVAC filter delivery. The cost for resident benefits packages is typically included in the lease and added as a monthly fee, with the fee being dependent on the specific benefits. Indeed, the benefits contained in a tenant benefits package will vary depending on the property manager and the type of rental property. The overall goal is to provide tenants with an enhanced quality of life while simplifying the experience of renting. At Second Nature, we pioneered the only fully managed resident benefits package, in response to PMs who wanted to make their business stand out. Our RBP includes an array of services and supports for residents, from filter delivery to credit building to maintenance. Why should property managers offer a tenant benefits package? Beyond the triple-win considerations mentioned just above, there are compelling and concrete reasons why property managers should offer tenant benefit packages. We'll turn to these now. Ancillary revenue Some tenant benefit packages include optional services or add-ons that can generate additional revenue streams for the property manager. This might include things like renter insurance or HVAC filter delivery. Resident experience Tenant benefit packages deliver numerous savings and value to tenants, beyond the value they would get if they were obtaining the same benefits "à la carte." Additionally, by offering additional services and conveniences, benefit packages can make tenants feel valued and more satisfied with their living experience. For instance, maintenance hotline requests, tenant portals, and air filter replacements all make life easier. Add-on services like identity theft protection can offer a sense of security. And discounted renters insurance coverage, utility concierge services, or other perks can save tenants money. Decrease tenant turnover and vacancy rates In a competitive rental market, tenant benefit packages can be a major differentiator toward boosting retention rates and reducing vacancy rates. Properties that offer these packages can also attract a wider pool of qualified tenants, and potentially command higher rents. Note that certain benefits in the package, like online rent payments and maintenance requests, can automate tasks and free up the property manager's time. This allows them to focus on more value-added initiatives. How does the tenant benefits package improve the tenant experience? Tenant benefit packages can significantly improve tenant satisfaction in several ways, by making life easier, more convenient, and potentially more affordable. For instance, if an online portal (a baseline feature for most property management software) is included for rent payments and maintenance issues and requests, this eliminates the hassle of writing checks or waiting on hold to speak with someone about a clogged drain. In other words, tenants have the peace of mind of knowing they can manage their tenancy 24/7 from the comfort of their own devices. Some packages might include features like filter delivery services or regularly scheduled HVAC maintenance. This frees tenants from having to remember these tasks – and ensures their apartment is well-maintained. Certain packages might also offer "verified vendor" services – in other words, a vetted vendor network that can help provide a more secure feeling to residents when service providers are on-site. 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For example, young professionals might appreciate discounts on gym memberships, while families might prefer pet-sitting services. You should also take care to clearly communicate what's included and not included in the package to new residents. Don't oversell the benefits – focus on how they genuinely improve the living experience. It's also very important to set realistic expectations for response times on standard maintenance requests, emergency maintenance requests, or virtual concierge services. Likewise, be clear on all available payment methods, as well as rent due dates, late fee structures, and any associated payment processing fees. If your package includes services from third-party vendors, ensure that these vendors are reputable and reliable. Research their customer service record and responsiveness to ensure a smooth partnership and a positive experience for tenants. Above all, regularly monitor the usage of different benefits within your benefits package. This can help you refine your offerings and ensure you're not spending where spending is not required. Looking for a Resident Benefits Package? If you’re looking for a “plug and play” resident benefits package, Second Nature’s RBP is the way to go. Designed to be easy to implement and simple to use, all the services it includes are managed by Second Nature – which means there’s no day-to-day upkeep required from the property manager: Second Nature keeps it running. It’s a simple way to grow your business and create great experiences that residents will pay and stay for. Learn more about our fully-managed Resident Benefits Package.

Calendar icon April 2, 2024

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