'Devastating' rules force pet owners into heartbreaking choices

Around two-thirds of Australian households have a pet, equating to 29 million animal companions, however, less than ten per cent of advertised rental properties are advertised as pet friendly.

For many pet lovers having to make the agonising choice between having a roof over their heads or keeping their beloved pet is a reality.

This means in states where pet rentals are not regulated, which includes Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, people end up sleeping in their cars, rather than surrendering their pets.

With Australia’s housing affordability crisis deepening, this number is likely to increase as more and more people are forced into renting.

Owners devastated by tough choices

Marlene Beveridge knows full well the pain of having to give up her beloved pet cat, due to a lack of pet rentals in the highly competitive and expensive rental market of Karratha, Western Australia, where she and her family were living at the time.

“It’s horrible having to give up your pet," Ms Beveridge said.

"It really makes you feel like you’re the worst person in the world.

"I was devastated having to give up Indie, knowing that a sacrifice had to be made, at his cost was gut-wrenching. I genuinely had so much anxiety when I knew the predicament we were in.”

Indie quickly became part of the family and they were devastated at the prospect of giving him up. Source: Rent with Pets
Indie quickly became part of the family and they were devastated at the prospect of giving him up. Source: Rent with Pets

Plans thrown into chaos

Other pet owners, like Ben and his partner, who are pet parents to three-year-old Australian Shepherd, Kai, have been forced to reconsider their plans due to problems finding rentals.

The family had recently relocated from Victoria to Queensland and while they had a positive rental experience in Melbourne, finding plenty of pet-friendly rentals to choose from, they found this was not the case in Queensland.

Despite applying for multiple properties, having impeccable references, and even offering to pay a pet bond, Ben and his partner were unsuccessful in finding a rental allowing pets. They are now looking to buy in Queensland.

“I think it’s hilarious that you can spend up to $1 million for a home and a body corporate says no to pets," he said.

"My dog is much cleaner and quieter than a child under five!"

Kai's owners will be forced to move away from Queensland because they can't find rental accommodation which allows for pets. Source: Rent with Pets
Kai's owners will be forced to move away from Queensland because they can't find rental accommodation which allows for pets. Source: Rent with Pets

Sue Hedley, the founder of Save Animals from Euthanasia (SAFE) sees countless people in a similar situations and says her organisation has been forced to rehome thousands of pets because of the rental crisis.

As a result, Sue feels very passionate about rentals allowing pets because she’s witnessed the negative mental health impacts on people being separated from their pets.

“We meet a lot of devastated people in our branches who can’t keep their pets. It’s constant. For many people, pets are the same as having children and with Covid lockdowns, people need their pets more than ever."

Calls for law to change

Companion Animal Network Australia (CAN), a charity representing companion animal welfare, would like to see rental laws reformed in each state so landlords aren’t able to refuse a prospective tenant simply because they have a pet.

CAN’s Rent with Pets Program aims to change negative attitudes about pets in rentals, encouraging positive dialogue between landlords, real estate agents and pet owners and introducing reforms to rental law, similar to those introduced in Victoria in 2020.

A family plays with their pet dog. Source: Getty Images
Pet owners say their animals often cause less damage to a property than children. Source: Getty Images

In Victoria, if a tenant asks a landlord permission to have a pet on the property, they can’t refuse permission without a reasonable excuse.

According to CAN CEO, Trish Ennis, rather than focussing on the potential for pets to cause damage to property, landlords and property managers should appreciate the benefits pet owners offer.

Tenants with pets tend to stay longer, saving the cost of reletting and pets generally cause less damage to a property than children do.

Pet resumes proposed to solve problem

One practical way to sell a prospective "pet tenant" to a reluctant landlord is to provide them with your pet’s resume.

According to Ms Ennis: “a pet resume can be a responsible pet owner’s most powerful tool when applying for rentals".

"It provides an opportunity to present potential landlords and property managers with your animal’s best qualities, hopefully, overcome any prejudices they may have when it comes to pets and promote you as a responsible pet parent.”

A pet resume should highlight your pet’s best qualities and include details such as their breed, personality and temperament, as well as information on how well trained they are and how you clean up after them.

Information about their habits, activity levels, and where in the property they’re likely to spend the most time is also useful information for a landlord to know.

Adding vet, training certificates and registration details, not to mention glowing references from previous neighbours and landlords will also ensure your pet’s resume stands out from the crowd.

Maree McCorrie and her dog Toby. Source: Maree McCorrie
Real estate agent Ms McCorrie says she doesn't hesitate to lease properties to tenants with pets. Source: Maree McCorrie

Real estate agent Maree McCorrie, pet parent to Toby, a fourteen-year-old Cavoodle, encourages more property managers and landlords to include pets in strata schemes and rental agreements.

“I think the attitudes of property managers and landlords towards pet-friendly housing depends on the type of property and kind of tenants.

"I’ve dealt with some beautiful tenants with pets and I wouldn’t hesitate in leasing them property.”

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