Tenants and pets – how to get a home with yours

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Some landlords aren't keen on pets - so when, if ever, do you let the cat out of the bag?

In these times of enforced isolation, pets have never been more valuable for their comfort and companionship. But there is still resistance among many landlords – and strata schemes, for that matter – to allowing animals into their properties, as Sue Williams writes in Domain.

It’s one thing finding your perfect rental home, but it’s another thing entirely to find one that’s just as welcoming to your pet. 

Sydney apartment renter Serena Leith, for example, looked back on her phone the other day to see the wish list of potential dog names she drew up in 2007. But it was only last year that she won permission from her building to keep a pet.    

“My landlord in my current place said I’d be fine to have a dog, as long as the strata were OK with it,” said tech company marketer Serena, 48. “But it was only when the no-pet ban was overturned by the courts in one building that mine said I could have one.

“So, it has been a very long process, and, as a renter, I’ve been trying for a long time to get approval.”

With court cases over pets being allowed in apartments happening all over Australia, there are now many more buildings nationally that permit pets – as long as tenants also have landlord approval. It just often takes a little more effort and sometimes more money to win over both parties.

Serena, for instance, is now blissfully happy living with cavoodle puppy Bruce in her Darlinghurst apartment. To help ease the way with her strata committee, she deployed a number of smart tactics to make the process run more smoothly.  

She provided them with a photo of Bruce, notes about his breed as the perfect, low-shedding apartment hound, a vet report on his health and his vaccination records.

In addition, she sent notes to all her neighbours, with chocolates, saying she was about to get a puppy and she was very sorry if there might be a little barking for the first couple of days while he became used to his new surroundings. 

“I think, especially with COVID-19, pets are the new babies, and plants are the new pets,” she said. “Attitudes to them in apartments are changing a lot.”

For renters of houses, landlords have also become much more open to animals living in their properties due to the dramatic rise in pandemic pet ownership.

For them, the reassurance that their new tenant is, or is going to be, a responsible pet owner is often enough, together with the comfort of a bond to pay for any damage that occurs to win them over.   

… agents report that far fewer property owners advertise that pets aren’t welcome, and they realise that tenants are often prepared to pay more rent for the privilege. 

Real estate agent Angela Davidson of Melbourne Living says times have really changed. “People are more likely to understand now that pets are part of people’s families, and as a result, they’re more willing to accommodate pets,” she said.

“Landlords are more savvy about getting rentals, especially in the COVID market with a lot of vacancies.”

Tenants are also savvier and tend to choose the kind of homes that might be more prepared for pets, with hard floors of tiles or wooden boards, rather than carpets, small yards or balconies off apartments.

Comprehensive pet resumes, with photos of the animal looking pleadingly down the lens, also tend to go down well. 

Stone Real Estate director Eddy Piddington says the prospect of extra rent owners can earn from operating a pet-friendly premises is also a great lure. “It’s just like when you sell property,” he said. “If you attract 20 people who want to buy, you’ll get a better price than if you attract two.”

“With so many people these days owning pets, being pet-friendly will make a lot more people keen to rent your home. And if you get tenants who are going to respect your property, that will happen even if they have dogs.”

But if you fail to persuade your landlord to allow you a pet, then it can be very hard to challenge that legally, advises Justin Abi-Daher, assistant principal solicitor at the Marrickville Legal Centre.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls, especially since lockdowns, with people wanting to challenge the legality of the clause put in at the back of their tenancy agreement saying they can’t have a pet,” Justin said. “But that clause is legal. And even with strata laws changing, if the landlord says no, then you can’t have a pet.

“That clause is controversial, and we believe it is a breach of a tenant’s right to peace, comfort and privacy, but that’s an argument that’s never been tested in court and would be very difficult to do so.”

Top tips for tenants

  • Create a pet resume – Describe the type of animal and breed, as well as its age, temperament and any training, vet records and vaccinations. Be sure to include a cute photo.
  • If you’re interested in an apartment, check its by-laws – they supersede permission by the landlord. Even if the owner says yes, the strata committee may refuse (despite recent court cases).
  • Talk to your neighbours -If you live in an apartment and need approval from your strata committee, let your neighbours know you’re planning on getting a pet, so it doesn’t come as a surprise.
  • Seek out pet-friendly properties – If you’re considering getting a pet, opt for homes with hard floors such as tiles rather than carpets, and look for a property with a yard, courtyard or balcony. For apartments, look for buildings where pets are already allowed by the strata committee. If a property isn’t advertised as pet-friendly, ask anyway.
  • Provide references – If you’re moving to a new rental with your pet, provide a reference from a previous landlord who permitted your pet.
  • Choose a low-impact pet – Landlords often look more favourably upon small, friendly, low-shedding breeds but may baulk at large, aggressive or energetic animals.
  • Don’t hide it -It’s best to be upfront and ask for permission first. Trying to hide a pet from your landlord or strata committee is a sure-fire way to get them offside.

You can read this article in full in Domain online.

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