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Study: Pets now outnumber kids in apartments

A cat and dog share a food bowl in this file photo. In Idaho and nationally, the number of dogs and cats in apartments has overtaken the number of children.

As apartment residents, pets can be problematic. They sometimes scratch floors and walls; they make noise, and they make other things. But rental property managers and owners who don’t allow pets in this day and age are missing out on a huge piece of the prospective rental pool, says Danny Harlow, CEO of HomeRiver Group, an Idaho property management company with properties in 20 states.
Harlow, like other property managers, said his company has seen an increase in the number of renters with pets. And builders of multifamily buildings are responding accordingly, with amenities such as walking paths, open grass and dog parks.
“We have definitely seen a rise in renters with pets,” said Harlow. “Rental properties that don’t allow pets are cutting out a huge portion of the prospective renter pool and often see their properties sit on the market longer.”
Anecdotal reports from several property managers and owners match up with the results of a recent RealPage Analytics study of millions of individual apartment-lease transactions. The study showed a 38 percent increase in pets per apartment from 2010 to 2017. During that same period, the number of children per apartment declined 14 percent.
In 2010, there were 21 kids and 16 pets per every 100 apartment households; by 2017, those figures had nearly reversed themselves, with 18 kids and 22 pets per every 100 apartment households. Researchers would call this a demographic inversion—if they thought of pets as people. American families certainly do.

Melissa Sharone

It’s tough to say if pets are easier on apartments than kids because both can cause significant damage if not watched closely, said Harlow.

“We allow pets in almost all of our properties and make it clear in the lease that pets are welcome as long as the rules are followed and the property is cared for as it should be,” he said.
Pet-friendly apartments are now the norm rather than the exception. The American Humane Society found that, in 2016, 98 percent of apartment communities in the Denver metro area accepted cats, 93 percent accepted small dogs and 66 percent accepted large dogs.
And then there are companion animals, which are different from pets because property managers and landlords are required by the Fair Housing Act to allow them if the tenants’ need is documented, said Melissa Sharone, president of First Rate Property Management in Boise. If it’s a documented companion animal, the tenant can’t be charged extra for it, Sharone said. Her company uses a third-party service called Petscreen.com to check out all pet applications. Petscreen.com checks references and confirms vaccinations and rates animals on a scale of one paw to five. If the animal comes in at three paws or under, Sharone said, First Rate won’t take the animal – unless it’s a documented companion.
Sharone, who has been managing properties for eight years, said she’s seen more and more pets and companion animals in tenant applications lately.
“It’s a trend everywhere,” she said of companion animals. “Airplanes, rentals, people have caught on to this so they’re having people verify that they need this animal. And it’s true, some people need these animals, someone with PTSD needs the animal. The policy is there for people who really need the animals. Unfortunately, it’s getting out of hand.”
Like most things, the pet-in-rental question ultimately comes down to economics. According to the American Pet Products Association, 68 percent of U.S. households, or 85 million families, own a pet.  That’s why the Fowler, a 159-unit luxury apartment building that recently opened in Boise, has hired a dog-walking service for residents.
And it’s why Mike Swope, whose company oversees 406 units in the Treasure Valley, allows dogs in all of his properties.
“I made that decision in the economic downturn,” Swope said. “I wanted to appeal to all the renters that I could.”

About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.