Today’s blog post is a guest entry by John Bradford of “petscreening.com.”
There are two Ps that can cause property damage – People and Pets. If you are a housing provider and property manager then you deal with both on a daily basis. Pets are animals but animals are not always pets. This is demonstrated when dealing with Assistance Animals (i.e. service/companion/emotional/therapy/etc.) These animals are not pets, but rather, serve as an assistive device to help an individual with a disability.
The ABCs of Pet Screening
Pets are not a protected class. Housing providers and property managers are free to accept/decline as they see fit. The reality, though, is approximately 45% of applicants have at least one household pet so having a no pet policy can, arguably, be a costly policy. That said, housing providers and property managers should understand the risks when dealing with pets because, after all, if something happens it’s going to be considered on your watch. There are three areas, known as the ABCs, to help significantly improve pet diligence: Affirmation, Behavioral, and Compatibility. Affirmation is getting the pet owner on the record about the general care of their pet such as having current vaccinations as well as going to a veterinarian on a regular basis. Behavioral is ensuring there is a stated history about a pet’s past and present behaviors such as knowing if FIDO has ever bitten a person or another animal. Compatibility is having more details on a pet’s breed, weight, sex, pictures, vaccinations and more. The ABCs can vary greatly for each pet. Pets are not equal and neither is the pet’s owner general care.
Assistance Animals Are Not Pets
Assistance Animals are intended to help to help an individual with a disability. The problem in the housing industry is that Assistance Animal fraud does happen. It’s sad, but true, that some pet owners will try to claim their pet is an Assistance Animal just to avoid paying a pet deposit/pet fee/pet rent. The FHAct is intended to protect those who legitimately need Assistance Animals, but there is an incredible amount of complexity in reviewing each claim. Property managers are not fair housing experts, so the pressure to handle these claims correctly is compounded by a lack of expertise. There are some published suggested guidelines from HUD, but these documents still leave many unresolved issues. There remains very little case law to reference, so property managers must do their best to determine if the requestor’s documentation is both reliable and credible. It’s advisable to request documentation about the disability-related need for the Assistance Animal, verify the therapeutic relationship between the requestor and verifier, request information about licensure, registration, profession, compliance of the verifier, and confirm the animal does not present a direct health or safety threat to others or has a past history of such behavior. It’s inadvisable to request documentation about the requestor’s disability, share/provide access to requestor’s medical records with others (HIPAA privacy laws), limit reliable/credible documentation to medical doctors/physicians only (there is no exhaustive list), require animal training documentation (except for Service Animals), implement breed and size restrictions, and charge a fee of any kind. There are still subjective areas of interpretation such as telemedicine, formulaic on-line questionnaires to issue recommendation letters for Assistance Animals, video counseling, and for-profit businesses exclusively focused on issuing recommendation letters for Assistance Animals. In summary, dealing with Assistance Animals can be complex and stressful.
Pet (and Assistance Animal) Screening – Liability Reduction & Revenue Potential
For clarity, you can charge fees for pets, but you cannot charge for Assistance Animals. There is a real opportunity for housing providers and property managers to generate new pet-related revenues assuming one has the insight into the ABCs of a specific pet. Variable pet deposits/pet fees/pet rents are rarely utilized, but are very achievable when you have the right data at your fingertips.
The options for housing providers and property managers are usually to handle these matters in-house or outsource the review/decision making to an attorney which can be expensive. Now, there is a third option which is relatively new to the marketplace but is rapidly gaining traction. It is PetScreening.com. This is not an advertorial because PetScreening.com is no cost to housing providers and property managers. In fact, the tool can actually help generate new pet-related revenue streams while adding a third-party layer of liability protection and the validation of Assistance Animals. PetScreening.com provides your firm with a standardized way of handling household pets and Assistance Animals. The tool creates a comprehensive Pet Profile for each pet based on the ABCs discussed above. Each Pet Profile is accessible 24×7 in an on-line report with a unique URL that can be shared with your property managers, field inspectors, maintenance vendors, and, perhaps, even your property owners. Every Pet Profile is up-to-date and receives an easy-to-read 1 to 5-paw score. Only Property Manager users can see the factors that impact each Pet Profile score. The scoring can be used to help create standardized pet-related fee schedules that are variable and correlate with each Pet Profile score. Lastly, not only is PetScreening.com zero cost to housing providers and property managers, but a rebate is earned and paid quarterly for every active Pet Profile. The scoring, however, is not applicable to Assistance Animals. These types of applications are reviewed, on a case by case basis, by the PetScreening.com team of reviewers who work with the requestor/applicant to seek credible and reliable documentation to support the Assistance Animal claim.
Check it Out!
In closing, housing providers and property managers are experts at managing rental assets such as single-family homes, multi-family communities, and vacation rentals. Pets and Assistance Animals are a necessity of the housing industry, but they add both additional complexity and liability to your business. PetScreening.com is free, delivers incredible value to its users, and is changing the way the housing industry deals with pets and Assistance Animals.