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Jennifer Carlyle: The Pet Effect on Revenue

It’s a decision student housing operators often wrestle with — to be, or not to be, pet friendly. The pet-friendly approach attracts an entirely different segment of prospects — pet owners —  to your communities. This seems to be an easy win for any student housing operator, but it’s not as simple as flipping the switch to pet-friendly status.

Allowing pets on properties creates an entirely new dynamic that requires thinking through any additional liabilities; whether or not to implement pet rent and pet deposits to help offset them; pet amenities like pet stations; and stipulations for visiting pets in non-pet-owning units. After considering these aspects, it’s often clear that becoming pet-friendly makes sense for a number of reasons.

It increases leasing numbers, tour reservations and makes the community more attractive. According to a recent study by Michelson Found Animals Foundation and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, 83 percent of property managers say pet-friendly vacancies can be filled faster and residents at pet-friendly units stay an average of 0.8 years longer.

Those in the student sector should be aware of the differences that accompany pet-friendliness when compared to conventional apartment homes and should have tactics and screening methods in place before they begin the process.

The Student-Pet Dynamic

Being pet friendly at a student community has a few unique components. Students tend to have irregular schedules, which can make it more difficult for them to have an everyday routine of, say, walking their dogs on their lunch break. In addition, students are just now learning to live independently, so taking care of a pet or an assistance animal while living on their own is also new to them. While this does not mean they will struggle as pet owners, it does mean they have a few additional dynamics to consider.

Standardizing Pet Processes

Thankfully, managing pet processes is becoming easier and more streamlined in the digital age. Many onsite teams in the student housing sector have reviewed pet and assistance animal applications themselves and found it very time consuming. Leasing teams are able to verify and catch a small amount of fraudulent applications, but many slip through the cracks or the leasing teams simply can’t find the time to collect and verify all documentation.

To help conquer this challenge, third-party screening services are now available to help erase that gray area, much like a credit score provider. The screening service utilizes trained professionals who know exactly what to look for — rather than an associate from the leasing team — and can independently validate the documentation. If the animal fails to meet service or support animal standards, the community can still allow it to live there under regular pet-fee guidelines. This helps recover any revenue lost to insufficient documentation.

Then there is the issue of unreported pets. These might qualify as the biggest hit to revenue generation. Simply put, unauthorized pets create a huge impact on the bottom line.

When standardizing pet processes through a screening provider, this loophole can be closed, as well. Communities can require all residents — pet owning and otherwise — to fill out a pet profile as part of the initial application process. They are alerted to the community’s pet policies and formally acknowledge that they must report any animal they acquire (or that visits) during their stay. Essentially, the ‘I didn’t know’ excuse is off the table.

Striking A Balance, Remaining Transparent

Many forward-thinking operators in the student sector have adopted a sliding scale for pet rent based on the risk factor of each animal. Scoring metrics, such as PetScreening’s FIDO Score, evaluate the risks for each animal based on a variety of factors (i.e. whether the animal is housebroken, potential for damage, owner history, vaccination status.) The community then can charge a certain amount of pet rent based on risk factor.

Most communities do not relay the precise evaluation number on the 0-to-5 ‘paw scale’ to the animal owner, but simply communicate a fee range for pets based on a general housing-related “risk factor” evaluation. For example, a dog fee is $28 to $40 per-month depending on evaluation. Communities can be transparent if a resident asks about the factors that led to a housing-related risk score, and have the opportunity to improve the score on their own by updating vaccinations or providing more detailed information.

The score-based system also enables communities to eliminate restrictions such as age, breed and weight, because the particular animal and owner can be judged on an overall risk analysis rather than its pre-existing traits or misconceptions.

Being pet friendly isn’t necessarily a pain-free process, but it’s an important component. According to the Michelson/HABRI study, 92 percent of renters (including those without pets) agree pets are an important part of the family and 71 percent agree that pets bring people together within a community. When implemented correctly, pet-friendliness can make a world of difference for your residents and create one of the most positive living experiences in the student sector.

Jennifer Carlyle is the operations manager for Walk2Campus Properties. The company oversees more than 3,000 beds in nine college towns.