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This is part one of a two-part article on the issue of pets in rental property. Part one looks at the issues around pets in rental accommodation, particularly in regard to legislation, tenancy contracts and how to increase your likelihood of securing a rental property with a pet.
Part 2 will look at ways pet owners can make owning a pet more environmentally friendly, from type of pet, food choices and more.
Why are pets an issue for renters interested in sustainability?
What do pets have to do with green renting? Well, pets are a big part of the family for many Australians. Two-thirds of Australians are pet owners. Pets are fun to be with, they teach us about looking after others and we know there are a range of mental health benefits to owning pets including stress reduction, love and companionship. There are also numerous social benefits (engaging with others with pets or whilst taking a pet for a walk).
I rent with my landlord living at the front. I have four bunnies...I have increased the understanding that these beautiful little creatures have personalities and don't belong as little prisoners in a hutch, forgotten.... the neighbourhood children, all little girls come to my gate and wait there for me...I see them ask if they want to visit my bunnies...next thing you know I have around 5 little girls all sitting quietly in the playpen with me while the bunnies run around and I talk to them about their care.... wonderful stuff :-) (Anna, NSW)
Yet as the number of people living in rental accommodation increases in Australia, more and more people are finding themselves in difficult situations either as they look for a new rental home that a will accommodate their pet, or find themselves in rather ridiculous clandestine pet hiding operations every time the landlord is due to visit.
Perhaps the biggest issue for sustainability is that many renters are forced to surrender their pets to animal shelters due to an inability to find rental accommodation owned by landlords who allows pets.
Am I allowed pets?
In our 2011 survey of renters across Australia, we found that only 30% of respondents tenancies allowed pets. 45% were not allowed pets and 32 were unsure of the status. 12% of respondents admitted they had pets despite not being allowed.
What are the laws pertaining to pet keeping in rental accommodation?
There is nothing in the respective Residential Tenancy Acts of Australian states which prohibit tenants from keeping pets. However many rental leases include a no pets clause that prohibits tenants from keeping pets, meaning that by signing the lease you are agreeing to not have pets on the premises.
This does not mean that you cannot ask to have a pet through negotiation with the landlord (and thus altering that contact of the lease), but if the landlord says no pets, by owning a pet you are technically in breach of your lease. According to the Tenants Union of Victoria, if you are caught with in breach of your lease by having a pet it doesn’t mean you can be evicted, but the landlord is within their rights to apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for breaching the ‘no pets’ clause of your lease. The Tenants Union believes that the Tribunal cannot legally evict you for having a pet in breach of your tenancy agreement. However in some cases the Tribunal has ordered tenants to remove their pets from the premises. (Obviously if you are given a Breach of Duty Notice or a Notice to vacate because you have a pet you should contact the Tenants Union in your state for advice.
If your landlord agrees to you keeping a pet, make sure that the ‘no pets’ clause on the printed lease is crossed out. Once the landlord agrees to you having a pet, they cannot change their mind
What about a pet bond?
Western Australia is the only state which has pet bonds formally recognised in law. This is where a tenant given permission to keep a pet pays an additional amount of security bond. This amount cannot be more than $260 unless the weekly recent is more than $1200 per week or the premises was the private residence of the owner for at least three months immediately before the tenancy was entered into, This amount can only be used for the cost of fumigating the premises at the end of the tenancy. If fumigation is not required, the pet bond should be refunded.
We have however met many renters who have informal pet bonds with their landlords of varying amount, usually including the specification that the property be fumigated and carpets cleaned upon their departure and any damage by pets is repaired or paid for.
Many animal advocates and animal shelters have called for the expansion of the use of formal pet bonds across Australia. According to the RSPCA, 30 per cent of pets surrendered to the organisation are from owners who cannot find adequate accommodation.
I recently asked a number of renters if they have had difficulty attaining rental accommodation with their four legged friends. No one could attribute their difficulty to solely having pets, but did see if as a mitigating factor.
We were living with my boyfriends parents are looking for a place to rent. We applied for houses for 11 months and probably around 20 properties. We wrote on the application that we had a cat and this may have been the reason, however it was probably also attributing to the fact that we were so young (21 and 22) (Paige, Vic)
Nobody has come right out and said they haven't wanted pets, but there was one house we applied for in Kew that the agents hinted that the pets were the issue in not approving us. Everyone else just says, oh sorry there were lots of good applications so yours wasn't successful.
I asked the real estate agent if we could have an outside bunny before we moved in, then after we'd moved I asked if we could keep him inside, and he said yes but we had to sign a form that said we'd get the place fumigated before we move out (which is the same if we had a cat). (Amy, ACT)
I have just listed them on the application form, usually just Dog x 1, and cats x 2. As I have a staffy I’m usually cagey about his breed, as idiot people like to assume that staffies and pit bulls are the same thing. So I say "terrier". When recently looking for a rental, my first question was always "are pets okay?" as I wasn't going to waste my time with properties where you couldn't have pets, no matter how great the house was.
One renter commented that the refusal to allow pets was frustrating considering the other nuisances of high density living:
Smokers smoke that wafts into my bedroom and lounge room from neighbours balcony, overacted orgasms from the unit below at 2am and crying babies or children are more annoying to others than if I kept a cat within my own unit. But God help me if I suggested banning smoking, late night sex romps or kids that are interrupting MY peaceful enjoyment of MY unit!
How does Australia compare to other countries?
Both the UK and most of America have pet bonds and also unlike other urban cities like New York and London where many real estate agencies list 'pets allowed' as a search criteria for rental properties. Not all properties automatically allow pets however and in New York for example, same building have restrictions on the size and breed of dog, and also specify that the pet must be exercised and in good health. I think this is a good idea in many respects. When I worked in higher education I’d talk to quite a few young international students who would buy a puppy which they’d keep on their apartment balcony without permission. It become a problem once the dog grew and required ample space for it’s wellbeing.
Things are changing. With more inner urban high density housing being constructed, some body corporates and urban designers are recognising the needs of people with pets. For example, in Melbourne, several large apartment buildings such as Eureka Tower have pet-friendly body corporate rules that encourage or facilitate tenants or owners with animals. But with such properties out of financial reach of many renters, finding a place for oneself and their furry or feathered family can be an onerous task.
How can I increase my chances of being allowed to rent with my pet/s?
- Give yourself plenty of time to find a suitable property for you and your pet and be prepared to move fast if you find somewhere suitable that will accept your pet.
- Prepare a pet resume. Photos of pets, names, ages, proof of obedience training for dogs, perhaps a bit about the breed.
- Provide roof of desexing, microchipping and immunisation (shows responsible pet ownership) and a letter from the vet.
- References from your previous landlord/real estate agent and even neighbours can help.
- Mention that you are keen to secure a long term tenancy. People with pets are most likely to stay longer in properties.
- Ask if you can introduce your dog to the landlord. Once they see how well-behaved it is, even a landlord who has said 'no' to pets just for an easy life may come to reconsider.
- Expect to pay a higher deposit- and be prepared to offer to do so, if you sense reluctance on the landlord's part.
- Offer to remove every trace of your pet's presence when you leave, and suggest that you add a clause to the contract saying so. It's probably a good idea to specify from the start what that will involve, and could include deep cleaning of the carpets, flea treatment if necessary and deodorising.
- If you want to put in a cat-flap, approach the landlord/agent in a way calculated to get a 'yes', by offering to sign a rider to your contract that you will put things back the way they were when you came. It might be as easy as simply replacing the bottom door panel, or replacing a pane of glass for window cat-flaps.
- If your lease agreement is without mention of pets, you could write up your own contract for the landlord to sign permitting your respective pet/s. The Animal Companion Councilhave a number of templates you can use