Drawing the Line: Pet Owner vs. Property Manager Responsibilities

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Pets in apartments have become increasingly widespread in rental housing, and while this skyrocketing trend has many benefits, it also presents an unpleasant challenge.

Of all the modern amenities and features offered at apartment communities, pet friendliness is one of the most in demand. After all, many renters welcomed a pet into their home during the pandemic, so operators looked to increase revenue and attract residents by allowing pets.

According to the “2020 Annual Report Pet Policies and Amenities in Multifamily” from PetScreening and J Turner Research, 26% of surveyed pet owners adopted or bought a pet after February 2020, and 19% of non-pet-owning respondents indicated they intended to get a pet in 2021.

Pets have become increasingly prevalent in rental housing, and while this skyrocketing trend has many benefits, it also presents some challenges. There are multiple implications when pet owners don’t pick up after their pets, from serious health hazards and environmental impacts to decreased resident satisfaction and loss of revenue. Unscooped pet waste not only impacts residents and pets – it affects onsite teams and operators.

Although it should be the pet owners’ responsibility, internal research from PooPrints found that 40% of pet owners don’t pick up after their pets.

 “When it comes to pet waste, it doesn’t necessarily matter where the line is between pet owner and property manager responsibility – the bottom line is that resident satisfaction and our reputation are our responsibility,” said Dana Jiles, Regional Property Manager at Bell Partners, which manages more than 70,000 apartments. “If residents are not going to pick up pet waste, we have to take care of it.”

The following are some of the impacts of unscooped pet waste and how operators are handling this growing issue.

The Scoop on Unscooped Pet Waste

First and foremost, unscooped pet waste is dangerous for people and pets. Pet waste contains harmful pathogens and bacteria that have been linked to causing diseases such as Salmonella, E. coli, ringworm and Giardia. The risks significantly increase in places where humans and animals live in close proximity, like apartment communities.

Beyond being a serious health hazard, unscooped pet waste has severe environmental implications. If left behind, the bacteria in pet waste can linger up to four years. When it’s not picked up, pet waste inevitably washes into bodies of water via storm sewers, so all that bacteria ends up in local lakes, rivers and streams.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists pet waste as a significant source of nonpoint environmental contamination—meaning it comes from more than one source. Unscooped pet waste is more than an annoyance and inconvenience. It’s a legitimate health concern and potent contaminant. With the growing pet ownership trend, there is plenty at stake.

A Ripple Effect

The pet waste problem impacts everyone at apartment com-munities. It’s certainly a nuisance to residents, who don’t want to see, smell or step in it. But it also affects onsite teams, as well as prospects interested in a community. Operators see these negative consequences reflected in their bottom line.

Pet waste that is left behind can tank resident satisfaction. Upset residents won’t fail to mention the issue in online reviews, and prospects researching potential homes will take note.

“There are ample opportunities for residents to voice their dissatisfaction online, and a property’s online reputation directly impacts leasing and renewal ratios,” Jiles said. “If pet waste is an issue, you can guarantee it will reflect on your Google score.”

 The curb appeal of a community can be enough to make or break a decision when it comes to signing a new lease or renewing. If residents and prospects notice unscooped pet waste, they will opt to live somewhere else.

When residents fail to pick up after their pets, it also falls back on maintenance teams. While these teams may spend some time picking up pet waste and improving curb appeal, something else has to give: Work orders.

 “Our maintenance teams can’t turn apartments or complete work orders as quickly, and that impacts the bottom line,” Jiles said. “It essentially rolls back to resident satisfaction when it’s taking longer for maintenance to complete work orders.”

When Onsite Teams Step In

“From my perspective, you step in from the beginning and pet waste management is implemented from day one,” Jiles said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a lease up or a stabilized property, I will always recommend a proactive pet waste management solution to set resident expectations from the start.”

Much can be said about having proactive solutions in place and implementing a pet waste solution from day one. But when it comes to the broader pet waste problem, operators must be reactive if the issue gets too out of hand.

“There are companies that come out to the community and pick the pet waste up for you,” Jiles said. “The real problem with that method is it trains residents that someone else is going to pick the pet waste up, so they don’t need to. It’s putting a Band-Aid on the problem, but not actually fixing it.”

While many operators of pet-friendly communities do have pet policies in place, as well as fully stocked pet waste stations to help address the problem, there is still one issue: You can’t always hold pet owners accountable and ensure they won’t make the same mistake twice.

Some operators have leveraged biotechnology as a holistic approach to pet waste management. Biotech services are usually included in new leases or renewals, so pet owners know what to expect: If you don’t pick up after your pet, you will be fined, and the fines will increase with each offense.

“DNA doesn’t lie,” Jiles said. “There’s no way to get around it. If we have unscooped pet waste and it comes back with a positive match, there is no question as to who didn’t pick up after their pet. Policies are an important starting point, but once there is a financial consequence at stake, residents are far more likely to dispose of pet waste properly.”

Operators utilizing biotechnology services for pet waste management have reported a 95% reduction in pet waste. On top of the pet waste reduction, residents are much more satisfied with a community that has pristine curb appeal.

“I have an asset that has used biotechnology for pet waste since they opened in 2018 and there isn’t a single negative review mentioning dog waste,” Jiles said.

Unscooped pet waste impacts all facets of multifamily communities. But luckily, there are a growing number of solutions available for mitigating pet waste, while holding pet owners accountable.

This story was originally published on the NAA website by Morgan Dzak. 

Morgan Dzak is Account Manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing.