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Did you know that pets are “one of the largest sources of ancillary revenue in the rental-housing industry” and yet “some operators are leaving potential revenue on the table” by charging their future tenants a flat-fee pet deposit? PetScreening, a North Carolina startup that invented a credit score for pets (a “FIDO” score), wants you to know this. Its risk-assessment algorithm evaluates pets based on data entered by their owners — “name, breed, weight, sex, age, pictures, vaccination information, micro-chip data, and behavioral information” — which it claims is more accurate than unsophisticated landlord assessments. Those judgments often include stereotypes about sizes and breeds. This is unfair to both pitbulls and, possibly, the bichon frise.
Pretending to be an operator who is leaving potential revenue on the table, I entered myself into the site’s revenue “fetcher” worksheet as a 20-unit building owner who charges a $200 flat pet fee. My personalized estimate showed I was only making $1,590 in pet revenue when I could be making a potential $6,201 with PetScreening’s services. The automated company email signed off with “woof regards.”
A FIDO score can range from one paw (very bad) to five paws (very good). Landlords can then set a sliding scale; the more “risky” the pet is (inclined to bark or walk with a patter-patter-patter rhythm detectable to downstairs neighbors, among other sins), the more a building owner can justify charging their tenant pet rent and fees. (The incentive for prospective tenants to be honest about their pet, we assume, is that they will likely get caught trying to minimize Frank Jr.’s tendency toward loud whimpering.)
For the honor of entering their pet into a database that will probably prompt their landlords to charge them more money, owners pay PetScreening a $20 fee for their first pet profile and $15 for each additional pet. (Landlords pay nothing to utilize the service.)
Among PetScreening’s current users, one property management’s pet policy states that “Paw Scores of 2 or less will require an additional security deposit of $500 per approved pet.” (Fish tanks under ten gallons were assigned a Five Paw Score; over ten gallons, Four Paws.) Another charges a $150 pet deposit plus an option of paying a one-time $200 fee or a $20 monthly fee for the duration of the tenancy — but only if you’re a Five Paw pet. A One Paw pet has to pay a whopping $500 pet deposit plus a $400 one-time or $40 monthly fee. (New York’s 2019 rent reforms prohibit landlords from charging more than a month’s rent for a security deposit whether or not a tenant has a pet, but many landlords still charge fees.)
PetScreening believes that its scores could encourage more building owners to allow pets, as opposed to enacting blanket bans — at a cost for tenants, of course. But isn’t behavior in the eye of the beholder? Doesn’t love cloud all judgment? What is it to be a “good boy”? PetScreening has nothing to say about these things.