Out of the dog house ; Changing markets, lifestyles open door for Fido in multifamily housing Chicago Tribune; Chicago, Ill.; Mar 31, 2002; Chuck Green Special to the Tribune;

(Copyright 2002 by the Chicago Tribune)

Talk about non-negotiable.

No matter how elegant the building or ideal the apartment, if there was no place for Max, Jeff and Brandy Francis' 90-pound golden retriever, there was no place for them. They would search for a place to live in Chicago for as long as it took to find a home for all three.

"We didn't even look at a property if it didn't allow dogs. Max is like one of the family," said Jeff Francis. He's been with them since they were married 10 years ago. It wasn't that finding a building that allowed dogs was like digging up a bone in a haystack; the trick was tracking one down that would accept one the size of Max.

"We found that many condominium buildings and other developments allow smaller dogs -- about 30 pounds or under -- but with a larger dog, it was a real challenge," Jeff said.

It took about eight months, but they bought a condominium in Lincoln Park.

"We love where we live now. Max has a lot of park space," he said.

The Francis' experience accentuates the point that dogs not only are man's best friend, but many people will turn their lives upside- down to accommodate their pet.

Multifamily properties in Chicago, both for rent and for sale, apparently have gotten the message: More are demonstrating a willingness to lay down the welcome mat for dogs, especially smaller breeds.

"Current buildings are not changing their rules, but many of the new buildings being constructed allow [dogs]," said Ruth Pearson, senior vice president of Koenig & Strey GMAC Real Estate in Chicago.

One reason, she said, is because more developers recognize that a growing number of people own dogs, particularly for companionship.

"A dog is seen much more as a companion. For a single person or a couple, a dog is a member of the family. And, in a market where you want to sell properties, you need to allow dogs," Pearson said.

"Years ago, people were very, very selective in taking pets, and you couldn't get a large pet in an apartment, period," said Diana Pittro, executive vice president of RMK Management, which manages apartment buildings in Illinois and Minnesota, including two buildings in Chicago. "I think a lot more places are allowing dogs now."

She, too, attributed that trend to the marketplace.

"The market is a little softer than it has been in the last few years, so people are open to doing a little of whatever it takes to service the needs of the person coming in the door," Pittro said.

"If that means taking pets, then they're taking pets."

People will alter their lifestyles for their dogs, she said.

"I wouldn't give up my dog. If I had to move to an apartment, townhouse or condo, I'd be looking for a place that takes a dog. Once you have a dog, they're in charge," Pittro said.

Rick Druker, vice president and managing broker at Chicago-based realty firm Baird & Warner, also believes many newer condominiums seem more inclined to welcome dogs.

"In this wave of brand new construction, I have found they probably are restricting people to one dog, but they're not restricting size, which, historically, they've all done," Druker said. "I just think that people in new construction are being a little more realistic about how people are living."

Sixty-two percent of American households own a pet, to according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association's national pet owners survey, 2001-2002. Of those, 39 percent own dogs.

Approximately 62.4 million dogs belong to someone -- 12 million more dogs than the World Book Encyclopedia reported in 1990.

"In terms of the attitude of developers and associations toward dogs, overall, I sense a trend toward tolerance," said Debra Lewin, of the Community Associations Institute in Virginia, a lobbying organization for condominiums and other homeowner associations, and author of "Pet Policies: How to Draft and Enforce Rules That Sit, Stay and Heel," published by the CAI.

Koenig & Strey's Pearson said dog owners are too large a group for developers to overlook.

"Walk through the Gold Coast some morning, at around 7. It's shocking how many people have dogs," said Pearson, who lives in a high-rise there and owns two dogs. "It seems to be a much more amenable amenity of a building today than it was 10 years ago. I just think dogs are more popular. I'd rather live in a building with dogs than with children -- and I have children and grandchildren."

Marketing is the name of the game, said John Hall, project manager for Draper & Kramer, a Chicago-based real estate company. It has influenced the firm's policy toward dogs, he said.

"We're moving toward being more lenient toward dogs. Part of our being more open-minded and accommodating to pets has been a marketing decision," although, he said, dogs are a "turnoff for some people."

The conviction of two owners in the San Francisco dog-mauling case has raised the question of whether landlords could be held liable for the actions of dogs on their property. (See Mary Umberger's column on Page 1 of Real Estate.)

The case in California "will prompt property owners to think twice about the types of dogs they allow," said Richard Polsky, founder and president of Animal Bahavior Counseling Services on Los Angeles. Polsky also is a forensic consultant in legal issues related to dog behavior. He was the behavior witness for the defense in the California trial, but did not testify.

In California, and most other states, including Illinois, Polsky said, "the burden is on the plaintiff to demonstrate that the property owner had actual knowledge of the dangerous propensities of the dog."

He noted that can be difficult to do. "You have to show actual knowledge, which can be inferred through circumstantial evidence: what other people say about the dog, the breed characteristics of the dog, aggressive propensities," he said.

"The upshot: Because of increased risk, people who own these large apartment buildings might be more hesitant to rent to owners with large, with supposedly aggressive-type breeds, like Rotweilers, German Shepherds or Dobermans."

Housing, however, isn't the only place where dogs and people intermingle. The parks have become more welcoming. For at least the last couple of years, in response to the growing number of people with dogs, the Chicago Park District has provided more dog runs in parks.

According to the Chicago Park District Web site, there are seven dog runs in parks throughout the city and approximately 750,000 dogs.

"A few years ago, we recognized that more and more Chicago families were including dogs in their families," said Angelynne Amores of the park district. "Dogs' owners are as particular about their dog-friendly area as parents are once we design a playground."

"I think a dog run would at least make [a neighborhood] more attractive to people, knowing that it's nearby," said Pete Scales, spokesman of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development. "When people buy homes, they want to buy into a neighborhood that has all the commercial and recreational opportunities that other neighborhoods have. People like dogs, and like to have dogs in their houses. When you buy a home, you want to have a nice big fat yard, or a park nearby," he said.

The densely populated loft area of Printers Row in the South Loop is a prime area for dog owners, according to Howard Thomas, a real estate agent at Printer's Row Realty.

"People have actually designated lots of parks here as dog parks. Sometimes it looks like dogs outnumber people," Thomas said. "In our area, the buildings are loft buildings, which are a little bigger [than some traditional condominium units]. And most of the elevators are oversized freight elevators, so it's not like a high-rise, which can really only accommodate four or five people. In loft elevators, it's easier for people who have dogs and those who don't to use the same space."

Dogs are welcome largely in the name of marketing, said Thomas. "Dogs mean as much to most people as their right arm," he said

Empty units, said Betty Cook, real estate agent with the Habitat Co., a Chicago-based real estate company, motivate more landlords to take pets. "When there are more vacancies, they become a little more lenient. But there are always restrictions."

Maybe, but a client of hers was more than willing to improvise in the name of her pet-to-be.

"We were looking for a dog-friendly condo. She hadn't gotten a dog yet, but she was going to get a larger one. But she wound up buying a condo in a building that only allows [pets of up to] 25 pounds. So now she has to get a smaller dog. If building owners want to restrict the size of dogs they allow, that's their prerogative," Cook said. "It's funny how people will adjust."

Michael Lee, who is owner of Lee Street Management and oversees 300 apartment units in East Rogers Park, said he bases his decision to allow dogs on his personal appreciation for them.

"We have always allowed dogs in our buildings. It's less of a pragmatic business decision and more of a matter of having been a dog owner most of my life," he said. "For people who don't have the benefit of homeownership, I don't see any reason why they shouldn't have the opportunity to enjoy the company of a dog. A lot of people come to us because our buildings seem like a cross between luxury apartments and high-end dog spas...if you can imagine such a combination.

"Sometimes though, I have to make compromises. Dogs are not intrinsically destructive, but occasionally you will have a problem with irresponsible tenants," Lee continued. "We have a strict rule about dogs coming and going out the back door only, so that people who don't have dogs, or might be afraid of dogs, will always know they can come and go freely through the front door without being confronted."

"Overall, creating a dog-friendly atmosphere has proven to support excellent tenant retention and satisfaction."

On the other hand, Jamie Glascott, a property manager with Horizon Realty Group, a residential property management firm, said that while dogs are not allowed in the units managed by Horizon, the company considered experimenting with designating a building in Lake View for dogs.

"We kicked the idea around for a few weeks. In the wake of Sept. 11, we had six or seven vacant apartments and were thinking whether it would help us fill up the building. It seemed like a marketing opportunity," he said.

In fact, during an open house at the property, Glascott said, at least one agent thought the building would easily draw prospects. "The agent had people looking for a building with dogs and said he could probably fill this building up in a snap if it was a dog building," Glascott said.

Although the owner of the building ultimately decided against it, as a rule, Glascott said, "you don't want to cut down your market anymore than you have to."

"For someone who wants to use the dog issue as a marketing tool or a niche market, I think the potential exists -- definitely," said Glen Tomlinson, general manager of Century 21 Sussex & Reilly, a Chicago real estate brokerage.

"Anything to satisfy the consumer," he said.

Like the Francises, in whose household Max is the man. "It didn't matter how spectacular a property was supposed to be," said Jeff Francis. "Without Max, there was no point in even stepping out our door."