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The Dramatic Downside of Being Dog-Friendly

Keeping multifamily residents happy between noise complaints, odd smells, and stolen parking spots is a delicate balancing act for most owners and property managers. Furry residents barking, messing on the floor, and even attacking other residents make that balancing act more difficult. While being dog-friendly can open a world of new opportunities for most complexes, owners and property managers need to be prepared for the headaches that come with the distinction. 

I speak from personal experience. My apartment is home to the largest private dog park in the city, making it a hot spot for renters with dogs. I don’t have a dog, but I watch the drama play out in our tenant engagement app daily. Meant for community building, event announcements, and resident communication, the message board at my complex is a Festivus of dog complaints. Messes in the elevator are a common refrain. Leashes are required on the property at all times, even in hallways. Apparently, there’s an aggressive Goldendoodle that other owners need to watch out for. Here are some actual dog-related posts from our messaging board:

“Non-residents are making it into the dog park, can we change the code again?”

“I’m worried the dog barking all day on floor 7 has anxiety issues, is he being cared for properly?”

“Whoever is leaving Milk Bones out for other dogs needs to stop, my dogs have dietary restrictions.”

I could go on. I’m starting to think more and more that people care about their dogs more than they care about themselves. That’s perfectly understandable. Humans and dogs have been bonding with each other for tens of thousands of years. Dogs have become a sense of comfort and source of identity. Pet adoption rates skyrocketed during the pandemic as isolated people sought new companions for themselves and their families. Millennials have the highest rate of pet ownership and represent the largest percentage of renters nationwide. More than 85 million Americans have a pet, and the vast majority, nearly 65 million, are dogs. 

“A dog can be many things: a dry run for parenthood, a way of putting down roots when traditional milestones feel out of reach, an enthusiastic housemate for people likely to spend stretches of their 20s and 30s living alone. An even more primary task, though, is helping soothe the psychic wounds of modern life,” Amanda Mull wrote in The Atlantic. 

Mull, who herself lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her chihuahua Midge, details how lavishly Americans are treating their dogs: sleeping in human beds at night, attending pricey daycares, eating specialized diets, and even having lavish birthday parties. Elevating the status of dogs is directly impacting multifamily communities that are doing all they can to be dog friendly. Dogs may help us deal with the daily struggles of modern life, but forcing them to live in dense urban settings creates additional struggles for dogs and owners alike. 

Where there is a dog park, there is drama. Even their very existence is a source of great debate. Taking up valuable real estate in the most expensive cities in the world so your precious pooch can poop seems absurd to many. For others, it’s the only way to live. Whether public or private, dog parks only benefit people with dogs. Yet dog parks are more popular than ever, up 40 percent over the last decades. That’s directly tied to how dog ownership has changed. Owning a dog meant walking around the block, exploring the neighborhood. Now owners expect to have a dedicated space for their dog on-site. 

Once the park is built, the problems start. Dog parks create noise, which is a problem for surrounding residents, and it’s especially bad if the park is on-site. Not every pet owner is a responsible one. Some owners don’t watch their dogs while at the park, others habitually break leash rules, and there’s always a mess on the ground despite plenty of signage telling owners to pick up after their dog. Often dogs just don’t get along, forcing owners to avoid the park if it’s already occupied by a dog that your dog has beef with, creating proxy wars between residents and regulars. Barking and odor are the root cause of many complaints, but aggressive dogs that attack other dogs or people can create real problems. 

Allowing dogs in a multifamily community has pros and cons from a financial standpoint. Pets, especially dogs, can damage property by urinating on the carpet, chewing wood, and destroying landscaping. Estimating the cost of allowing dog ownership is a complicated calculus built around the dog’s size and how well they’re trained. Theoretically, an unruly Shih Tzu can do more damage than a disciplined German Shepherd, but there are no guarantees. 

Despite all the drama, there’s plenty of upside to allowing dogs. First, it opens up a property to a larger pool of rental applicants. Pet owners tend to stay at an accommodating property longer because finding an alternative residence can be challenging. The additional cost of pets to the complex owner means they can push rents higher and charge additional pet fees in some states. 

Allowing dogs is a sound business decision but must be done with care. Pet screening is as important as tenant screening. Background checking a pet’s past behavior, personality, and health in tandem with in-person screenings can help ensure that the residence is a good fit for all involved. Breed restrictions hardly help and are increasingly illegal. Some properties will DNA test dogs before moving in, allowing them to hold owners who don’t pick up after their dogs accountable. Clear rules of ownership etiquette must be communicated and enforced. 

Multifamily owners can do everything right and still deal with problems. No policy, regulation, or screening will solve the myriad of issues and drama created by dogs and their owners. Customer service in dog-friendly multifamily complexes must be trained and ready to deal with delicate situations that involve dogs. Building out facilities and accommodations for dogs is only the beginning. Tampering down the day-to-day drama is the hard part.

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