With an estimated 30.4 million pets and two thirds of households experiencingthe joys and health benefits of having a companion animal¹, it’s no surprisewe consider pets as family. Some people see their pets like their children.
In fact, according to a Suncorp bank study of people looking for their nexthome, more than half of Australians (51%) consider their pets more importantthan proximity to family (46%) and friends (39%) when buying a house.
The tragic reality is, however, that many pet owners are having to make theagonising choice between having a roof over their heads or keeping theirbeloved companion animal. This is because pet rentals are not regulated inmany states, such as Queensland, Western Australia or Tasmania, wherelandlords are able to refuse applications with pets for no good reason.
According to rental property website Rent.com.au, less than 10% of rentalproperties are advertised as pet friendly – contributing to thousands ofanimals being surrendered every year!
In Western Australia, Marlene Beveridge had no choice but to surrender herbeloved family cat to the shelter after not being able to secure a petfriendly rental in Perth when moving house to accommodate her growing family.
Indie was Marlene’s ‘foster failure’ from SAFE Newman (Saving Animals FromEuthanasia Inc) and came to her in 2016 “agitated, unsettled and not a fan ofhumans,” but eventually warmed up to the family, including their dog Red.
“Indie was very loving toward our family. He loved the kids and just liked tobe around them. He would let them pull his tail and pat him and never seemedfussed,” said Mrs Beveridge. “I knew Indie loved us very much because hedidn’t like any other humans outside of our family. He would come and sit andwatch TV and always just wanted to be amongst the business of family life. Weadored his beautiful nature.”
When another baby was on the way, the Beveridge family needed more space wherethey lived in Karratha and decided to move closer to Perth. They searched formonths to find a suitable pet friendly property, including with familymembers, whose landlords either did not permit pets or they could only taketheir dog.
“I can’t explain the amount of anxiety we felt trying to find a pet friendlyrental,” said Mrs Beveridge. “I know many landlords are sceptical of lettingtenants have animals, but we always respected the owner’s rules regarding petsand kept their house in immaculate condition even though we had pets… I feelif landlords were more open to pets, people like myself would be more thanhappy to do whatever it takes to respect rules and to even pay the extra petbond required.
“It is known that children who are raised with animals develop less allergiesand I think that is very important to have that exposure and be comfortablearound animals. Pets become a part of your family and bring so much joy andhappiness to any activity and give you another sense of purpose. Red and Indieare the most beautiful souls; you never feel alone when you have pets. Theybring you peace and comfort.”
Earlier this year, the family moved to Perth and had no choice but tosurrender Indie to SAFE WA.
“I felt so guilty that I had put my cat in this position. I was meant to takecare of him and now I didn’t know what to do or where to take him. And to behonest, I despised people who gave their animals up because they had to move,”said Mrs Beveridge.
Pet rental crisis not just in pandemic
The reality is that Australia has been facing a rental crisis with increaseddemand and low supply, creating an unprecedented surge in housing prices –even before the pandemic. Thousands of Australians face being pushed intohomelessness as the nation’s rental affordability reaches an all-time low,according to the Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot (August 2020), whichhighlights the lived experience of looking for housing on a low income.
The rental crisis is proving an extra challenge for people who have companionanimals, forcing some into homelessness because their pets are not welcome,and others to rehoming their animals to improve their chances of finding aplace to live.
Queensland single mum Tina, her nine-year-old daughter Hannah and theirbeloved cat Dottie (all names changed for privacy), lived out of their car forthree months after not being able to secure affordable pet friendly housing.
“During the months of instability living in our car, Dottie was one of theonly things that helped Hannah through this period,” said Tina. “We wereactively applying for rentals and moving about sleeping in our car. Hannah wasnot attending school during this time.”
Tina reached out to St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland, who were able toquickly find them transitional accommodation, but not for their family cat.So, Dottie went to stay with a foster carer with the Animal Welfare LeagueQueensland’s Emergency Boarding program. This alleviated much stress for Tina;however, Hannah was extremely distressed about being separated from her bestfriend.
Recently, they were fortunate to secure long term accommodation with acommunity housing provider in partnership with the Department of Housing andPublic Works, which has a newly built pet-friendly block of units.
“Without the wonderful support provided by AWLQ for Dottie, we would not havebeen able to accept the transitional accommodation offered,” said Tina. “Wecan’t wait to move (to our new pet friendly home) and have Dottie back withus, where she belongs.”
Pets need to be more readily accepted in crisis accommodation
Tui Gordon, a family support worker from St Vincent de Paul SocietyQueensland’s Ipswich Accommodation Support Services, deals with many familieswho are homeless or at risk of being homeless, desperate to keep their petswith them.
“Our clients who are homeless and have pets find they are a great comfort andsometimes the only constant in their life, also the only thing that loves themunconditionally,” she said.
Ms Gordon explained that the Ipswich region already has a shortage ofemergency crisis accommodation and a huge demand for rental properties frompeople moving from interstate, pushing prices up and tightening theavailability of rentals in the market. Imagine how much harder it is for petowners, she said.
“There are many families that require the assistance of services to look aftertheir pets; not all of them have family who can take them in for them if theyget temporary accommodation,” she said.
“The AWLQ have been fabulous to work with in getting pets cared for in theshort term. But unfortunately, pets are often needing care for a few monthsnot weeks and there is a shortage of long-term care available. I would love tosee pets more readily accepted in rentals and crisis accommodation.”
Pets not in the census
How can we encourage pet friendly tenancy laws when pets were not evenincluded in the 2021 national census? The census is meant to be a snapshot ofwho we are and tells the story of how we are changing by providing insightsinto our current economic, social and cultural make-up. The information anddata also help create government policies and plan for the services we need.
Trish Ennis, National Executive of Companion Animal Network Australia – CANA(formerly Animal Welfare League of Australia) is greatly disappointed pets arenot included in the 2021 Census.
“With pet ownership increasing and resulting in demand for more pet friendlypolicies, the information gathered about pets could be used in guidinggovernment policy relating to companion animals and making our communitiesmore pet friendly,” she said.
CANA is a registered charity representing the companion animal welfare work ofmember organisations including Animal Welfare League QLD, Animal WelfareLeague SA, Lort Smith (VIC), Sydney Dogs and Cats Home, Dogs’ Homes ofTasmania and Saving Animals From Euthanasia Inc (WA).
The organisation celebrates the human-animal bond and promotes responsible petownership through national campaigns, partnerships and initiatives, such asthe Rent with Pets program. The program aims to increase awareness around thesurrender of pets to shelters due to difficulty finding pet friendly rentalproperties.
“Monthly statistics from our members tell us there are far too many surrendersstrictly based on rental issues, across all age groups. We know this causesmental health issues for humans, as well as disruption and separation anxietyfor their pets,” said Ms Ennis.
“As rents rise, it’s going to become a bigger issue (to find pet friendlyaccommodation). We want to work toward better rental laws in each state tosupport responsible pet owners and create a national law similar to that ofVictoria, ACT and NT. It’s going to save money, save lives and avoid a lot ofstress.”
Ms Ennis explained that many landlords and managing agents have a ‘no pets’rental tenancy policy because they may think it’s easier to manage a propertywithout pets or the pets might cause damage.
“We know that a well-managed pet-friendly rental can deliver great economicoutcomes for those willing to introduce a ‘pets considered’ policy,” she said.
For instance, pet owning tenants are generally willing to pay more rent, petfriendly properties rent faster and reduce your advertising spend, andresponsible pet owners can make excellent tenants and want to hold longerleases.
“Renting to more pet owners reduces animal euthanasia and results in betteranimal welfare and outcomes for tenants and landlords,” she said.
Rent with Pets website provides information, advice and resources to supporttenants and landlords to be responsible pet owner tenants and welcominglandlords, and encourage pet friendly rental laws.
“With the added challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s more important thanever to create a more pet friendly Australia,” said Ms Ennis.
Moving towards pet friendly cities
Sydney’s member of the NSW Parliament, Alex Greenwich also wants a petfriendly Australia, inspired by his 13-year-old rescue dog, Max, a mostaffectionate pooch with a lot of personality.
“Living with Max in an apartment community, seeing the importance to my mentalhealth and wellbeing, has motivated me to make sure there are laws that areappropriate and are welcoming to companion animals,” said Mr Greenwich.
“People are increasingly renting in city areas, and lack of clarity in the lawaround companion animals in apartments has led to many costly legal battles toresolve disputes. We need to change the laws within rentals to make sureunfair barriers aren’t put up.”
Mr Greenwich, in collaboration with the Animal Justice Party, successfullyintroduced reforms to provide that clarity for the benefit of animals, petowners and apartment communities. From 25 August, the NSW Government’s newlaws put an end to blanket bans on animals in strata.
Pet bans will not be permitted except in a few limited circumstances where thekeeping of an animal would unreasonably interfere with another resident’s useand enjoyment of their home or common property. For instance, if you aresubletting a place and have an allergy to cats, most people would say it’sfair to say no to someone with a cat.
The regulations will define these circumstances following consultation in linewith terms set out in law, said Mr Greenwich.
“We got a positive response from the strata community (to the new laws). Theconcern was people were seen as either cutting through the blanket ban versusfree for all. The heart of the decision making was the welfare of thecompanion animal,” he added.
In relation to renting in NSW, there is no term in the Residential TenanciesAct 2010 that prohibits you from keeping a pet, or that requires you to askfor your landlord’s consent before you keep a pet. However, many landlordswill include a clause restricting pets in the lease agreement, and there is nospecific ban on them doing so.
Mr Greenwich said he supports changes to NSW’s Residential Tenancies Act 2010to allow pets in any rental property, with owners able to request a pet ‘bond’to cover any damages, as occurs in Victoria. He submitted petitions toParliament calling for reform (closed in August 2021).
Snapshot of Australia’s rental listings and comparison
In August, Pet Industry News found 134,320 rental properties advertised onRealestate.com.au nationally (including apartment/units, villas, houses andtownhouses). We then searched for pet friendly rentals using the filter ‘petsconsidered’ and the number dropped to 7,610.
This means, whilst 65% of our population has pets⁴, only 5.6% of all rentalproperties in Australia are advertised as being pet friendly.
Let’s compare this to Switzerland, which has the highest percentage of rentersin the world at 56.6% and 41% of the population has pets.
In a search of a popular rental website Homegate.ch for pet friendlyapartments in all of Switzerland, we found 33,093 rentals listed. When weadded the ‘pets’ filter – clicked DOGS and CATS (they only had the twooptions) – and the number dropped to 8,253.
Result: 41% of the Swiss population has pets, but 24.9% of rental propertiesallow pets.
Pets strengthen communities
Research shows the benefits of pet ownership extends beyond the owner and canhelp strengthen the social fabric of the local community² ᶟ.
Associate Professor Lisa Wood from the University of Western Australia’sSchool of Population and Global Health and Senior Research Fellow in theCentre for Social Impact was the lead researcher in a study into the socialbenefits of pet owners. The study showed that people who owned a pet hadhigher social capital than non-pet owners.
In the Living Well Together handbook (designed to assist decision makers tapinto the ‘power of pets’), A/Prof Wood says “pets act as a lubricant forsocial contact and interaction, and pet owners had elevated perceptions ofsuburb friendliness. Even among people who didn’t own pets themselves, petswere seen as a conversation ice-breaker and to contribute positively to peoplegetting out and about in their community.”
The study showed pet owners were more likely to exchange favours withneighbours, to be involved in community issues and to have higher levels ofsocial capital. Pets also appeared to ameliorate some determinants of poormental health, such as loneliness.
“The connection between pets and social interaction and social capitalsuggests that the domain of a pet’s influence can extend beyond its immediateowner and home turf, to have a positive ripple effect on the broadercommunity,” says A/Prof Wood.
Besides pet playing a role in motivating their owners to be more physicallyactive (which in turn has a flow on benefit to health and reduced burden ofdisease at the community level), they also inspire volunteering, communityinvolvement and programs to support people with special needs, she adds.
It is so true what A/Prof writes: “When you create a neighbourhood that’sfriendly to dogs, it’s friendly to people, too”.
For resources for tenants and landlords, including a state-by-state guide tothe laws around pet ownership and rental properties, visitwww.rentwithpets.com.au or your state tenancy union via Australia’s NationalAssociation of Tenant Organisations (NATO).
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