As published in the Daily Journal of Commerce

How should a potential tenant decide which building to select for office space? Rental rate, incentives, class of space, location and tenant improvements make the usual list of important factors. In this competitive market, landlords are paying more attention to how they can differentiate their office space from the building down the street. One inventive way is to allow pets.

Portland has a few pet-friendly office buildings. Wieden + Kennedy, recognized for its originality, is known for the dogs in its building. Both its employees and its tenants can bring their dogs into the office. Despite a lack of policy, Portland’s EcoTrust Building has many dogs inside. Most buildings expressly do not allow pets, but that is changing around the country and in the Portland-metropolitan area.

Allowing pets is generally a cost-free incentive that appeals to a whole new generation of companies. Additionally, like their pets, tenants tend to remain loyal to landlords that welcome their best friend.

Pet-friendly workplaces are not new. Bookstores and hardware stores have cats. Jewelry stores have dogs. Congress has welcomed dogs for decades. Many innovative companies, like Google, Apple, Amazon, Ben & Jerry’s, Wieden + Kennedy and Replacements Ltd. have pet-friendly policies for their employees. Approximately 17 percent of businesses countrywide now allow pets, and that number is expected to grow.

Why are companies moving in this direction? The reasons are not that surprising. Pets improve morale, aid employee recruitment, increase communication among employees, reduce stress, stimulate creativity, and generally create a more productive workplace. The presence of pets seems to not only create employee loyalty, but also customer loyalty. At a time when so many companies are reducing benefits, allowing pets is often a cost-free perk. In a survey of pet-friendly companies, 100 percent said they would continue their pet policy.

Allowing pets should be done only after careful consideration. A company should check the terms of its lease, because most contain language restricting pets from the premises. Even if the lease permits pets, a company should be aware that it likely will be responsible for any damage done by pets on the premises.

The easiest time to obtain a landlord’s consent for pets may be when a company negotiates a lease. Most insurance policies required under a lease cover dog bites, but it is important to confirm with an insurance carrier. Once a company decides to become pet-friendly, a written policy can help in obtaining a landlord’s consent to allow pets in the building.

A written policy also establishes guidelines for employees and their pets, and often makes the experience more pleasant. Most policies require, at a minimum, that pets be well socialized and comfortable around strangers and other animals. Many companies allow only dogs. Pets should be healthy, vaccinated, clean and housebroken. Owners must make sure their pets are not a distraction to other employees. Bringing a pet to work should be a privilege for responsible employees. Pets should be kept within their owner’s spaces or on a leash.

Most offices should contain pet-free zones. Generally, pets should not be allowed in break rooms, kitchens or restrooms, and they should not be allowed to roam. If employees or customers are uncomfortable around pets, then the owner must avoid creating undesired interaction.

People allergic to pets rarely have reactions by simply occupying the same building, but employees with severe allergies should be given an air filter near their workspace; also, a supply of antihistamines should be available. Making reasonable accommodations for people with allergies or fears of animals is certainly recommended. Pets that cause distractions or repeatedly have “accidents” should be banned.

Landlords considering making their office buildings pet-friendly should develop rules and regulations as a part of each lease. Such rules should specify standards under which pets are allowed. Some landlords allow only dogs and include conditions similar to the company policies described above.

Landlords must maintain the right to ban certain pets that are aggressive or dirty. While most leases already address the responsibility for damage done by a tenant, additional provisions should be added for damage by pets. Integrating pet-friendly rules and regulations should be done in connection with a thorough understanding of the entire lease document.

More buildings are being advertised as pet-friendly. Landlords are finding this to be a way to attract tenants and retain them. Once a company becomes pet-friendly, it is not going to want to move to a building that does not allow pets. In this tenant-driven market, becoming pet-friendly may just be the spark to create demand in certain buildings.