The following blog post is a time-stamped full transcript of Bob Preston's interview of John Bradford, CEO at PetScreening.com, recorded May 24, 2018 and published on the Property Management Brainstorm podcast. The audio version of this podcast can be found at this link on the North County Property Group website, as Episode 7 - Managing a Pet Policy, Featuring John Bradford, Pet Lover and Founder of PetScreening.com: Property Management Brainstorm Show
Introduction: 0:05 Welcome to the Property Management Brainstorm show with Bob Preston. Bob Is the President, Owner and Broker of North County Property Group, the fastest growing and top ranked property management company in North County San Diego. This podcast is for property owners and investors who are considering hiring a professional property management company to manage their property assets. You'll hear from leading professionals on the best practices surrounding the San Diego rental market, what's involved in successfully renting your property, and how to make sure your property is managed correctly. Now, here is your host, Bob Preston.
Bob Preston: 0:55 Welcome, welcome, welcome to the Property Management Brainstorm podcast. This is Bob Preston, your host of the show, broadcasting from our studio here in Del Mar, California. Today I'm excited to talk about a topic that's near and dear to my heart, as I'm a pet lover, and that is, do you or don't you allow pets in your rental home? And if you do, how can you manage that process and the pet policy? And I have, as a guest with me today, a person who knows a lot about this topic and that's John Bradford, the CEO at PetScreening.com. Thank you for joining us John!
John Bradford: 1:20 Bob, hey, thanks for having me on your show!
Bob Preston: 1:22 I know you are a busy guy, you're a property manager, you also have a political career that we would probably like to hear about real briefly and you started this new service, PetScreening.com and would love maybe if you just started the show introducing yourself and what you do and tell us a little bit about your PetScreening.com service.
John Bradford: 1:41 No Problem Bob. So, I come from the property management industry. I started a company. I live in the Carolinas. I live in Charlotte, North Carolina. So, I'm obviously on the other coast and I have, gosh, I've been in the business 14 years. I served on our industry's national board of directors. I think I was on the board for maybe seven or eight years, was national treasure of NARPM and I do political career. I started off as a town council man and now I serve at a state level. I'm in the North Carolina House of Representatives. I'm in my fourth year, with two-year terms, here serving my second term in my fourth year. I'll be running for a third term this fall, but what I did is I basically took my two skill sets, Bob, understanding property management and the risks that we deal with every day, not only with people but the other p Word is pets.
John Bradford: 2:32 And then of course we see a lot of individuals who are making accommodation requests for assistance animals and in my political career, even though I'm at the state level and that is more of a federal set of statutes, these issues are now hitting states and a lot of times my colleagues saying go see representative Bradford, he's in property management. So, I'm seeing more and more issues coming across my desk regarding assistance animals and many times it's questions about, you know, this seems like fraud, or, you know, it's a real shame because I know there's a real legitimate group of people that need these animals. Who we hear about are the ones that seem to be taking advantage. So, I sort of took my two skill sets both legislatively and property management, and I created PetScreening.com as a service to property managers, which also is a service to the owners that you serve to help advise risks with pets and pet owners. And then also we help validate assistance, animal status for anyone seeking an accommodation request.
Bob Preston: 3:32 I would like to hear more about that a little bit. We'll touch on some of the federal laws, you know, it's interesting that you're in politics. I had on one of my episodes the mayor here in Del Mar, Dwight Worden, and one of our big issues is vacation rentals, right? There are a lot of, and I'm sure you have some of that in North Carolina, where a lot of neighborhoods are trying to ban vacation rentals as hoteling and commercial zones. And so anyway, I just thought that was kind of interesting.
John Bradford: 3:58 Yeah, and I'm a big property rights guy, so I fight for property rights and those bans can sometimes be over reach and you’ve got to, it's a balance. I understand it's a balance. But uh, just eliminating that is not something I'm a fan of.
Bob Preston: 4:10 So John, maybe just to kick off the show too, if someone were to be interested in your service or your product PetScreening.com, what would be the best way to reach out and find you guys?
John Bradford: 4:19 Yeah, you know, I mean, so our domain PetScreening.com and if someone is a landlord, um, you know, and it doesn't matter. We have landlord with one rental property and then we have landlords with thousands of properties. We service single family, vacation rentals, multifamily. What I like to say, Bob, is if you're in the business of putting a roof over someone's head, chances are pet screening is for you. And this is a free service by the way, to all landlords, property managers and all the owners that you work for. You know, they're very fortunate because you use the service and they get the value of the service as well. So, they've just got a PetScreening.com or they can send an email to email@example.com and we'll jump all over.
Bob Preston: 4:59 Perfect. Or listeners can connect with us here at North County Property Group and we can put you in touch with John's company. So, okay, so I hear a lot of statistics. We here in our company, we've run the numbers and we say about two thirds of all applicants for rental properties have a pet. So, one of the very first questions I get when I make to the new owner is a, you know, uh, I don't think I want to have pets in my home or will you allow pets? And it's a big topic of conversation. What are the numbers as far as you know, I mean, I'm sure you've studied this and kind of have a national number or maybe know what that would be?
John Bradford: 5:35 Great question Bob. So, there's a couple of data points. Apartments.com, which is more multifamily. They did a study years ago and their number was 72 percent.
Bob Preston: 5:45 Two thirds. Yeah. There you go.
John Bradford: 5:48 I will tell you that it does vary from firm to firm. We also see some real regionalism. We see in warmer climates. People tend to, I don't know why, but we just see more, Florida for example, is a state with a lot of pets, so it is very safe to say that over a half of the properties that are being managed or properties that landlords own are going to deal with pets and I will tell you, we've been measuring the average number of pets per household and that number has been hovering right at 1.3. So, it's not just a factor of one, not only. Let's say you're from to your point, it's two thirds. It's more than that. If you take two thirds and then you multiply by one point three because some people have a dog and a cat or two dogs. So, pets are like family. Like you, Bob. I love pets. I don't believe every Pitbull is a bad dog. I believe it’s kind of like going to a restaurant where you have a table of screaming children. I don't fault the kids, I fault the parents. And we take that same philosophy here at PetScreening.com. We look at the risks associated with the pet and the pet owner together because that's the key.
Bob Preston: 6:56 Yes, that's a big topic here. And I think that's the purpose behind your product and your service is that we're all about mitigating risks in this business, being the landlord, right? It's risky. It's a risky business. I don't care who it is, who's renting their home. When you invite someone else to come in and rent, you're taking a risk on that person and their profile, right?
Bob Preston: 7:16 So, maybe what you can do is tell us how it works? How someone registers? And tell us about your product.
John Bradford: 7:23 We try to really keep it easy. So, what we do is we provide every landlord or property manager a pet screening link that's unique to that company. Your company has your own pet screening link, right? So, when someone comes into your office or calls on the phone, they said they want to make an application, I am quite sure your application asks if they own a pet or an animal. And if they say yes, then you would easily say, well, just go to this link, at PetScreening.com, and you provide the link and when they click on that link that brings them to our site. And what we do is, we're really a data company. We're collecting data from the pet owner about their pet and we really focus on three things. We focus on what I call the ABCs: we focus on the affirmations. These are a series of question and answers about the pet owner's, care of the pet, the pet owner's understanding of pet policies.
John Bradford: 8:15 Very simple things just like, Bob, a simple question. Do you always keep your pet on a leash unless it is in an enclosed fenced area? And you will be surprised how many pet owners answer no to that question. And then of course we asked why the answer now and they'll say, well, my dog or whatever has been to obedience school and it, and it basically says that my dog is obedient and doesn't need to be on a leash. Now, you and I both know that anytime there's an animal that's not on a leash, that is a risk! Many pet bites happen when they are off leash. So, what we do is we collect the data and the responses. We also collect information. We ask has your pet ever been quarantined? If so, why? Has your pet ever bitten an animal and caused injury? Has your pet ever bitten a person and caused injury? We ask about the size, the sex, the weight of the pet.
John Bradford: 9:06 So we collect all this information and we don't manipulate it, we collect it and then we have created our own patent pending algorithm and we, you know, very similar to when you do a credit check on a person you get to fight for, we issue a final score and it's a play on words. Uh, but a Fido score is a score that we provide the property manager to point out any housing related risks. And then that score can be used to help make better decisions on do you want to accept that pet? And the pet owner. And a great example would be, you might get someone who has a. I'll just pick on a German shepherd that has never been anyone that has all its micro, has a microchip, has all its vaccinations and it might be a really good dog and a good pet owner.
John Bradford: 9:54 The only risk factor is the fact that it is a German shepherd, which is a known, higher risk breed. But again, because I'm a pet lover, I don't unilaterally say that all German shepherds, you know should be denied. So, we just give you the risks data and if the only risk data associated with that application is the fact that it's a German shepherd and everything else on the application looks good. You might, and a landlord might just decide to rent to that German shepherd, but they might charge a little more to cover the risks.
Bob Preston: 10:20 Sure. That totally makes sense. So, we've started using the product, we're a customer, so full transparency here for our audience. I'm one of John's customers and we've just started using it ourselves. And it's interesting because we found ourselves asking the kind of questions you just articulated to tenants and our leasing managers or our property managers were having to do that, and it was kind of uncomfortable, right? It's almost like, you're invading a part of that person's privacy and asking about vaccinations and stuff like that. So, the thing that I like about the service is that it sends the tenant, the prospective tenant off to a third-party site, it's sort of a one on one questionnaire, nobody's watching, nobody's listening and that allows the tenant to answer all those questions that you just mentioned in sort of a private environment. Is that one of the main benefits?
John Bradford: 11:13 Yes, it is. And you know it's cool. We built a product because you know, you and I've already said we're pet lovers. This product can be used by the pet owner and in variety of other ways. Let me give you an example. I live in North Carolina. We've already talked about that. I grew up camping and my family loves to camp and every time we go to a campground, campgrounds, as you can imagine, are very pet friendly, right? Many people bring their dogs and even cats camping, and I will tell you, more and more campgrounds want to see copies of vaccination records. So, what you can do is once you have a pet profile with PetScreening.com and you're checking into the campground, you can say, what is your email address? You can log into PetScreening.com and you can share your pet profile with the campground by typing in their email and they have everything on your pet, including vaccination records at their fingertips.
Bob Preston: 12:01 That's pretty nice. I'm sure that comes in handy. If you were to want to kennel your dog, the pet groomers.
John Bradford: 12:10 Right, dog groomers won't even cut an animal, put a pair of shares, do it until they know they're vaccinated.
Bob Preston: 12:14 So if you're a tenant and you've you filled out a profile, it's not just for the landlord. The tenant can share that with other professionals or other, places the records might be required.
John Bradford: 12:23 We call it a pet management product that they can use for other facets of their life. That's right.
Bob Preston: 12:28 Yeah. And we had a situation recently where someone came in and filled out the pet profile, the pet screening on your site and it turned out they didn't get the property we were offering but they were pleased because they could still take that information they'd already submitted with us and they could share it with their next rental property applications.
John Bradford: 12:49 You got it. t's portable, which is, it's unlike a credit report and it's not portable. This is portable, and they can port it around for months and after 12 months we make them go back and we asked them to go back and update it. That's up to them.
Bob Preston: 13:00 Right. So, I'm sort of bouncing around on the questions I was planning to ask you here. So, it sounds like everybody wins, the landlord wins, the tenant wins. I love that. So that's good. What about if something happens during the tenancy with the pet, like there's an incident or something happens, is there a way to capture that information?
John Bradford: 13:24 There as, part of part of our patent that we filed with the US Patent Office is that we've created the first national database that can be used by landlords and property managers and community managers to report different types of incidents. So, it could be a pet bite, if someone reported a pet, and you validate that really did happen. You can log into that pet profile and make a note that there was a pet bite incident, put in the details and that incident report will follow the pet and the pet owner and perpetuity in our product. We also have other categories such as property damage. So, if you do a move out at the end of the year and it's a cat that has urinated the property is so bad that you must replace carpet and pad and usually if replace pad when it comes to cat urine because it goes through the carpet, the top layer. Well that's an expensive endeavor to do that. So, you could then walk in and find that cat profile and report property damage and describe what happened. We also have unauthorized pets. If you find someone who has an unauthorized pet and then your owner decides, okay, we'll make them go through that screening and let's see what we're dealing with and if you decide to keep the pet and the person that had the unauthorized pet, you could still at least report the fact that this person has a history of having unauthorized pet and this is all data that is helpful to the next landlord down the road.
Bob Preston: 14:44 Well, it's also helpful to our property managers if they end up being asked to extend the lease because we're gathering information throughout the course of the lease as opposed to just kind of one snapshot in time.
John Bradford: 14:55 That's exactly right.
Bob Preston: 14:56 So one of the things that has become more and more commonplace and my business and we've started doing it as the pet guarantee. I'm sure you're familiar with this concept. We've started, because of this high number of tenants and applicants who want to bring a pet into the home, we've started offering the pet guarantee. And this service that you offer allows us to offer some further assurance to ourselves and the homeowner that the pet we are vetting is really done properly.
John Bradford: 15:33 I think you've characterized that very well. I'm not going to suggest to you that applicants are not being untruthful, but what I do know is, if you're not asking the questions, you're not getting the data. And we asked the questions to quantify the record and because we're asking questions that the property management industry really has never asked we're at least building a layer of liability so that if someone is untruthful they're on the record as being untruthful and that is very important. If there's an incident, because in front of a judge and jury he can demonstrate well, you know, we asked if this dog had ever been quarantined and why. And guess what? It was quarantined, and they lied to us. You and your owner can hold your heads high and say we ask the questions and because there is no central database to go find quarantined information because that's usually at a municipal level and there's no place bringing that together. Just the fact that you ask the question and got them on the record saying no when really there was an incident, can really be beneficial to you and your owners in the future.
Bob Preston: 16:38 No question about it. And it assures my company and my staff that the proper questions are being asked, and the same questions are being asked every single time.
John Bradford: 16:45 Consistent that that's exactly right.
Bob Preston: 16:48 I'll have one our leasing managers bring me a lease to sign or something and I'll say, okay, did you ask these questions that you asked all the questions you’ve outlined. Let's talk about assistance animals a little bit and I used the word animals, not pets and I know you know a lot about this, so you know, we hear other terms besides assistance animals. We hear service animals, emotional support animals, and I'd love to just get your take on, is all this summed up into one category because I know this is so incredibly confusing topic for even my company, let alone an individual landlord who is trying to rent their house on their own, so maybe you can just kind of take us over that, what you're looking for, what, what you're allowed to ask, what you're not allowed ask?
John Bradford: 17:32 Yeah, absolutely. It is a confusing and somewhat complex issue. Even attorneys, quite frankly, I hear attorneys not giving guidance that is consistent with the statute. It's not because they mean any harm, but it just demonstrates how confusing it is. So, ADA, which is Americans with Disabilities Act, which really, when we're talking about animals, okay, we're not what we're talking about here. So, when it comes to animals, when it comes to the ADA, the ADA is focused on service animals and service animals can only be two breeds dogs and get ready for this, miniature horses. That's it, no joke, Miniature horses and dogs and the ADA is focused on public accommodations. These would be places like movie theaters. When you pick any places, you can go and do commercial business that's on public accommodation. The question set over on the ADA for service animals is different than the question set under the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act applies to housing.
Bob Preston: 18:39 So it's different if you're a movie theater versus you're a landlord.
John Bradford: 18:43 Absolutely. That is a 100 percent correct. That's right. So, under the Fair Housing Act, which is housing related, the question set is different. Under the Fair Housing Act, there are no breed restrictions, meaning it's not just limited to dogs and miniature horses. There are no breed restrictions. Now I will caution and just say that if someone tried to claim they had an alligator, you could probably demonstrate that an alligator is dangerous, so that could be a full breed restriction on an alligator. The point is FHA, Fair Housing Act says there are no breed restrictions, so you must look at each one uniquely. The broad-based term that we use over in Fair Housing Act is assistance animals. So that really covers anyone that says they have an emotional support animal, companion animal, a therapy animal, a service animal, because remember service animal under the ADA is a different context than what we're talking about under the FHA.
Bob Preston: 19:37 So, if you're a landlord, the sort of catchall term would be assistance animals, right?
John Bradford: 19:42 Yes and even that still confuses people because they'll ask if you're making an accommodation requests for an assistance animal and they go, no, I have a service dog. A service dog in this context is still a type of assistance animal and we still will review that service dog, no different than we review an emotional support dog because again, under the Fair Housing Act, training is not required. Under the ADA, a service dog must provide a task under Fair Housing Act, no training is required. So, it is an interesting subject. You know, we understand the statutes, this is not punitive. We are here to help individuals who legitimately have a disability and a disability related need for an assistance animal. The two questions that are permissible under the Fair Housing Act are clearly outlined in the HUD memo dated from 2013, which you can find on the internet.
John Bradford: 20:34 We also, in our product at PetScreening.com, when someone is making an accommodations request, we don't refer to it as a pet anymore. We refer to it as an animal only from that point forward. There's no charge whatsoever for someone who's making an accommodations request, and we ask the two HUD permissible questions, word for word, and there's never any concern on your part or the landlords or the property owners that you work for, that anyone is asking the wrong question. Because if anyone asks, what is your disability, versus do you have a disability, that's a monumental consequence in questions and answers. You cannot ask someone what their disability is. You cannot do that. And you can imagine someone new starting and just say, oh, what's your disability? And they, they mean no harm. But the reality is that's a violation. You cannot ask that.
Bob Preston: 21:26 It's almost a conversation you're having with someone you might phrase something wrong as a slip in words
John Bradford: 21:36 That's exactly right. So, we're very proud, I've been to Washington DC, I've met with folks in HUD. I've never asked, nor would I ever asked for an endorsement of what we do at PetScreening.com because you know, I don't mix government with a product, that's not good policy. I will tell you though that we've offered to take any data that we have and we would of course redact private information, share that with HUD because HUD is craving data in this particular space and if there's anything our company can do to provide them data, we have made that offer already and will continue to make that offer. But I will tell you Bob, we are seeing, here's some interesting stats. About 12 percent of the total folks that come to our site have, are making, I should say accommodation requests.
John Bradford: 22:24 So out of a hundred people that come to our site with either a pet or an animal, we see about 12 accommodation requests and the other ADA or just ordinary household pets. So, of the 12 animals, if you will, what we see is that about 40 percent and that's four zero, 40 percent. We are either sending it back to the animal owner who's known as the requestor for more information because what we have is insufficient and we ask for more data because we need the data to make sure it's valid and many of these people either disappear, or they convert it to a pet application on their own. I don't draw the conclusion. I will just tell you that we are here to help them and if they decide to convert their animal requests to a pet, that's on them. The point is we are here to help them and what we see is people who legitimately have assistance animals give us great feedback saying we love the fact that we feel like we're not having to deal with just the leasing agent. We're dealing with a company that knows what they're doing, and we also feel like you're stopping people who don't have legitimate assistance animals.
Bob Preston: 23:35 Let's face it. There are websites out there, I've done it, I've registered my pet, you can pay $100 or whatever it is, and within about 10 minutes you can get a card and certificate that says you have an emotional support animal.
John Bradford: 23:47 Well, you can, and I will tell you that, um, you know, without going into too much detail, not every site is adhering to the Fair Housing Act guidelines and some of the sites are. What we do though is we just, we look at every accommodation request uniquely, we have a legal review team that looks at every single request individually. Like this is not automated. There's a human element to it.
Bob Preston: 24:15 And you must because everyone is different, right? Every single accommodation request is different.
John Bradford: 24:20 Because I hear a lot of firms like, oh, we just say if it's a doctor's note, we'll except them, if there's no doctor's note, we won't. Well that's bad, guidance because they don't necessarily have to be from medical doctors. They can be from therapists or counselors. There's no exhaustive list of where these documents can come from. The point is we have a neat service. We take our time, we are just trying to bring some, you know Bob, when you were bold, and you were a child and had the little things on the rails that will pop up and then they drop them if you got older. I feel like we're bringing some rails to this to help make sure that people are really following the guidelines, both the requestors and landlords for that matter. And I think it's a fabulous service that we're offering and we're having a lot of fun and happy to do it.
Bob Preston: 25:08 Well, good for you. It sounds like you're having a lot of fun and I really liked the service because it allows us to, you know, send the tenant or the prospective tenant to a third-party site. You guys ask the questions, you validate the status of assistance animals for us, without our team having to do that. And that's just a terrific service. And we're making sure that you're asking the HUD questions not my team.
John Bradford: 25:33 And understand and it's in writing. So even I don't have to worry about us asking the wrong questions so it's fair game and we, um, and just so you, we don't coach or counsel or give legal advice to anyone who's making an accommodations request. We provide them with the documents that are readily available both from the department of justice, the ADA as it relates to public accommodations. Then of course the Fair Housing Act., we make those documents readily available and we are here to answer as many questions as we can, from people making accommodation requests. What is telling sometimes when someone just asked what do I need? And we're just like, well, you know, here's the document. Please read it. You need to have a document that affirms you have a disability and a disability related need.
John Bradford: 26:15 One thing I want to point out, I always try to do this. If someone has an obvious disability and an obvious disability related need for the animal, there is no need for anyone to send them to PetScreening.com because individuals who have obvious disabilities and disability related need for the animal. That's all you need, you're done. This speaks to individuals who will have what we call non-obvious or as some often refer to as invisible disabilities. If you don't know they have a disability, or you can't see an obvious disability and it's more than just the disability, it's the disability related need. So, if someone came in, you know, dark glasses on and you could tell they had a cane and it was obvious that they're blind or have some sort of vision impairment. You would not send them to us. You would just go ahead and work with them in businesses, in the normal fashion. But if someone came in with one crutch in a cast, then just because they have a crutch and it looks like they might be disabled, doesn't necessarily mean that they need an animal. That's disability related need for an animal. So, they must meet both questions to qualify.
Bob Preston: 27:26 I know you must go cast so some votes
John Bradford: 27:30 Yes, I do, we could talk about this all day. I'll just summarize by saying this. I know your reputation and you're leader in the industry, the fact that you're using this product shows me that you not only care about your tenants and your residents because this is a neat product that they can use, but also that you care about doing the right thing for your staff and for all your owners that you work for because for owners who have been reluctant to pets, this product is going to really let them open their minds to say, okay, well I'll consider pets now because if they say no, only 30 percent of the population will look at their house and they're going to sit there with a vacancy longer. This will open their eyes to the idea of taking and let's face it, I don't know about you, but if I lived to one of your properties and I moved out of your later, you'd never know my dog was there because I'm a responsible pet owner and I take great pride in how I treat a property, including my best and I'm not alone. There are a lot of people out there like that, so saying no, can really, I think do some harm financially to your own assets, so you might as well accept pets. So, thank you for listening, Bob. Great work and thanks for inviting us to your show.
Bob Preston: 28:34 John. thanks for joining. It was great to have you. And let's wrap up the show. Until we have our next broadcast, we will be out in the field working hard for our clients to maximize rental income and your property values and thank you for joining, John, the Property Management Brainstorm podcast.
John Bradford: 28:51 Thank you so much Bob.