Despite most Australian households (almost two thirds) having at least one pet, it is often difficult to find ‘pet-friendly’ accommodation. Unfortunately, there are still significant barriers for people with a companion animal who wish to rent. This is an important issue for both human well being and for animal welfare. It is heartbreaking to be forced to part with a beloved pet. Of the dogs and cats surrendered to shelters, it has been reported that between 15% – 30% are from owners who could not take their pets when they moved to a new rental property.
To make sure you can have a pet while renting, check the rules in your state/territory, as there are some differences throughout Australia. In general, residential tenancy laws do not mention pet ownership, which leaves landlords free to insert a ‘no pets’ clause in the tenancy agreement. Before signing a lease and moving in with your pet, you may need the consent of your landlord. You should also check that any ‘no pet’ clause in the tenancy agreement has been crossed out (or that it is otherwise stated that pets are allowed) and whether the agreement specifies the number or type of pets and where they can be kept (indoors or outdoors only).
Another issue arises with strata title properties. This refers to units or townhouses with shared areas such as foyers, driveways and gardens that are managed by an owners’ corporation. Owners’ corporations have their own rules about pets which you must comply with, so your landlord should provide you with these. In some instances, owners’ corporations prohibit pets altogether. However, in some jurisdictions such as the Australian Capital Territory, an owners’ corporation cannot unreasonably withhold consent to keep a pet. Even when pets are allowed in rental properties, owners may be in breach of the tenancy agreement if their pet(s) are considered to cause excessive noise or other forms of nuisance to neighbours or have damaged property.
If your landlord initially refuses to allow pets, it may be possible to negotiate the matter. This can be assisted by showing a photograph or introducing your pet and providing a ‘pet resumè’. The resumè should include your pet’s name, species/breed, age, council registration, microchip number, references from previous landlords or neighbours, and a description of their health status (de-sexing, vaccination and parasite prevention records), temperament and training.
Consent to rent a property with a pet can never be refused to owners of assistance dogs.
In Victoria, new tenancy laws will be introduced into parliament in 2018 to protect the rights of all tenants to have pets in their rental properties. If passed, these will be implemented in 2019. Tenants will require written approval from their landlord but this approval cannot unreasonably be withheld. Exceptions include any council restrictions (such as on the ownership of backyard chickens), a ban by the owners’ corporation or in heritage buildings where the cost of repairs is considered too high. Tenants who are refused permission to have a pet can appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
In Western Australia, landlords can legally charge a separate pet rental bond to cover the cost of any damage your pet causes to the property. This pet bond cannot be charged to owners of assistance dogs and is illegal in other parts of Australia.
If you are in doubt about your situation, contact your local community legal centre or tenancy union to find out your rights and obligations.
Helpful information on renting with pets or having tenants with pets, especially for property owners and managers, who may not be aware of recent positive findings regarding tenants with pets, can be found on the Australian Veterinary Association website: https://www.ava.com.au/node/14545.