In some Australian jurisdictions families are being forced to give up dogs and cat when they go into rental accommodation because landlords ban pets. Australia is not alone. There is a dearth of rental accommodation allowing pets. Or if pets are allowed the conditions are too tight. This can lead to tenants with pets breaking the terms of their agreement. In turn, this leaves them feeling insecure because they are waiting for the moment that they are found out.
Update, the next day:M/mark> what I have written below should be read in the light of this update. The Times newspaper states that in the UK “Landlords may have to accept tenants’ pets”. Michael Gove, the housing secretary currently, has unveiled laws that will empower 4.4 million tenants in the private rental sector to keep their pets even if landlords forbid it under plans to strengthen protections for renters.
Under the planned changes to the law, landlords will have to provide a reasonable justification if they refuse to allow a tenant to live with their pet. At the moment, only 7% advertise their properties as pet-friendly.
The change in the law is designed to improve the lives of renters who cannot buy their own homes in the UK. The number of people who can’t do this has surged recently because of strong increases in property prices which in turn, in my opinion, is due to an expanding population in the UK without a commensurate increase in available properties.
In further strengthening tenants’ rights, those living in squalid conditions will be able to take their complaint to an ombudsman who will have the power to order landlords to pay £25,000 in compensation. The law change is part of a Renters Reform Bill. The bill will be introduced this year.
Law changed to make it obligatory to allow pets in rental accommodation
In Australia, in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), new rental laws introduced in 2019 prevents landlords banning pets completely. This has probably led to landlords accepting pets with conditions which are difficult to comply with. There may be restrictions on the size of the dog and the number of pets. However, in contrast to other areas in Australia, they’ve not seen an increase in abandoned pets because their owners needed to rent and therefore this change in the law benefited owners and their pets.
In Victoria, Australia, a similar law introduced in 2020 which prevented landlords unreasonably restricting pets, resulted in a slight decrease in abandonment of pets when pet owners moved home.
Western Australia wants to follow Victoria and ACT because the RSPCA in that state have said that up to 15% of the animals handed in to their shelters were from owners who were unable to find rental accommodation.
There is a rental crisis apparently in Australia with pet owners forced to make a choice between giving up their beloved companion animal or putting a roof over their heads.
The first thing that could happen to improve rentals to pet owners is to change the law more significantly across Australia or any other country which places an obligation on landlords to allow pet owners to rent their properties with the condition they can only refuse if they have a reasonable reason to do so. The default position should be that pets are allowed which is the opposite to what normally happens today. And the agreement would make provision for nuisance (see below).
No reason why landlords shouldn’t let to pet owners
Landlords will probably complain about laws making it obligatory to let to renters with pets. But they shouldn’t. Firstly, they will get more people coming forward to rent from them. Their market would widen.
They can do two things to help to mitigate the possible extra damage done to their property because a pet is living in it. This is a major reason why landlords don’t want pets in their apartments. They think there will be more damage and they don’t want the hassle of repairing it and dealing with difficult tenants.
But they can take, by negotiation, a larger deposit which would probably be acceptable to a tenant seeing as they are finding it hard to find an apartment to rent. This is the second thing they can do.
Thirdly, they could rent out an unfurnished apartment or house. This would naturally limit the amount of damage that could be done because there would be no landlord-owned furniture to damage.
Fourthly, they could equip their apartment with hard floors and walls that were painted with washable paint, for example. The point that I am making is that the apartments could be more durable to resist damage from pets. I don’t think this would require much of an investment and in any case, they would get more clients
The point being made is that landlords regard cats and dogs as problematic. That’s their default thought process and it needs to be upended. The law can force this change in mentality.
The big problem which is unresolved by making apartments or houses more robust and pet friendly is the possibility of nuisance to neighbours caused by barking. There is not much that the landlord can do about that. They have to rely on the tenant to ensure that their dog does not bark but they can’t guarantee it. And if the tenant is away at work all day how is the dog going to respond? Will they howl? Will they bark? Will the dog’s owner know what their dog is doing before the complaints come in? Dogs should not be left alone for more than 4 hours at a stretch.
Of course, if there are more tenants in an apartment block with dogs, they are naturally going to be more tolerant of the noises that dogs make. This would mitigate against complaints about noise from neighbours.
The only way that a landlord can deal with the possibility of nuisance from barking is to ensure that the agreement contains strict rules which make it clear that if there are complaints the tenant must leave. And the law should provide the landlord with the right to evict tenants under these conditions quickly. There should be no legal obstacles. The tenant should leave within days. This is the fifth thing that could happen.
Laws making it obligatory for landlords to allow tenants with pets and would make provision for the necessity to include such terms and conditions in a tenancy agreement.
To recap, state or federal legislatures should impose an obligation on landlords to rent out their properties to tenants with pets as a default position but allow them to include strict terms and conditions regarding nuisance and to impose a larger than normal deposit. And landlords can do more by ensuring that their unfurnished properties are pet friendly i.e. designed to be robust enough to sustain any accidents that may occur from pets living in these properties.
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