Pet-Friendly Housing in Action

How an animal shelter and property management company worked together to create housing that embraces pets 

If you’ve ever rented with a pet, you probably know the drill. An apartment says it is “pet-friendly” just to have arbitrary breed, size or weight restrictions. It’s really only friendly to some pets. 

As a result, some people lie about having pets, others have no choice but to give them up to an animal shelter, and some settle for long commutes or less ideal housing to keep their beloved companion. Pet owners struggle, animal shelters get owner surrenders, and property managers lose out on great tenants.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the help of animal welfare organizations, property management companies can implement non-restrictive pet policies that work better for them and renters. 

Read on for a real-life success story, about how Sunrise Management and Consulting, which manages apartment communities in New York’s Capital Region, worked with local Mohawk Hudson Humane Society (MHHS) to create truly welcoming pet policies at a new property.

This property has no arbitrary pet restrictions based on breed, size or weight. Instead, staff does a meet and greet with potential renters and their pets to ensure the animal will be a good resident, based on socialization and interaction. If there ever are issues, they help residents alleviate them, in part with help from MHHS. The property has a Pets Are Welcome designation from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), given to rentals with truly non-restrictive pet policies.

Heather Schechter, director of marketing and business development for Sunrise Management and Consulting, and Todd Cramer, former president and CEO of MHHS, told the story of how they achieved this to Panhandle Animal Shelter Executive Director Mandy Evans, on the podcast “People Are Animals Too, Darnit!”

Deciding to Welcome Pets

It all started when Sunrise Management and Consulting had a property under development that had room for a dog park.

“Living in our area, there are a lot of people who really love their pets, treat them very well and make great renters,” said Schechter. “So we knew there was a demand for it out there.  … We thought, ‘Let’s really allow people to be there with their dogs, and how do we make that work?’” 

Schechter connected with Cramer, who had worked on a program on this very topic in a prior role at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in New Jersey. This program was based on the Pets Are Welcome initiative of the HSUS, which aimed to get property managers to implement non-restrictive pet policies.

“I was thrilled,” said Cramer, who leaped at the opportunity to get involved.

Working Together to Welcome Pets 

As an animal shelter, if you’re going to get involved in an effort like this, you need to know what resources and support you can offer, taking into account budget and staff time, said Cramer.

It’s also good to know that property managers are not necessarily the decision-makers, so be sure to meet with senior leadership from the property management companies.

This was key to getting Sunrise Management’s senior leaders on board, said Schechter. 

Cramer and other MHHS staff sat down with them to answer questions and share best practices, protocols and policies for allowing pets. They provided data to back it up and examples of other properties with welcoming pet policies, with contact information so Sunrise Management could reach out to them.

These resources were incredibly helpful, said Schechter. 

“I really wanted Sunrise Management to be an example for others and I wanted to show it would work so others would follow their lead,” said Cramer. “ … We needed to make it easy for them to partner with us.”

The shelter sought ways it could alleviate any possible problematic situations. 

It offered training for Sunrise Management staff about what to do in a dangerous animal situation, like if maintenance staff go in and the dog is protective of the apartment. It offered resources to mitigate issues between residents and pets, dog training for poorly behaved dogs and animal-handling orientation for new residents. 

New staff at Sunrise Management get training from the shelter about how to interact with and approach animals safely.

“I personally don’t have any pets, so for me, it was really a learning experience,” said Schechter. “I think that educational piece was the key.”

Cramer also gave Sunrise Management staff 24-hour access to leadership at MHHS, in case issues arose. 

The Benefits of Welcoming Pets

Because housing-related issues are some of the top reasons why people surrender pets to animal shelters, programs like this can be a great use of animal shelter resources. They help keep pets in homes and build communities that truly embrace the human-animal bond. 

“It falls perfectly in line with our efforts in animal welfare to offer pet retention programs … to keep the pet out of the shelter at all costs, keep it in a home where it’s already loved,” said Cramer.

For property managers, it gets them better pet residents, because breed, size and weight are not indicators of a pet’s behavior.  

“We’ve interviewed little dogs, and some of them aren’t great residents,” said Schechter. 

These pet policies also show that apartment complexes are embracing and respecting their communities, which can lead to media attention. 

“They’re getting good exposure for doing the right thing, and doing it well, and it drives people to want to rent from their communities and live there,” said Cramer.

Having pets also helps create a sense of community among renters, who want to keep living there. 

“We have found we have a close-knit community of renters,” said Schechter.

Pets help build relationships among renters, which leads to fewer issues and happier tenants. 

“When you have that many people living in a limited space, tension can run high, and I think the pets oftentimes help mitigate that,” he said, “People have something in common.”

Since implementing welcoming pet policies at the first property, Sunrise Management has expanded this approach to several news ones as well, says Schechter. 

It’s even had effects beyond Sunrise Management properties.

When a family had a catastrophe that made their home uninhabitable, they had to move in with another family member and couldn’t keep their dogs. They surrendered their pets to MHHS, but Cramer agreed to hold them while they figured out their rental situation.

“Ultimately I received a call from a potential landlord who wanted to talk to me directly … and that landlord was one of Sunrise Management’s employees,” said Cramer.

The landlord said he’d never allowed pets at the rental property before, but would in this case because he saw the pet policy at Sunrise Management working. In the end, the family and their pets got to stay together. 

“When you’re successful like Sunrise Management has been,” said Cramer, “ it does trickle down.”