A push is underway to make Byron Bay the first city in Australia to adopt a “pets are welcome” policy when it comes to rental properties.
Local animal activist Karen Justice is leading the campaign and says there are not nearly enough available rental properties for people with pets.
RSPCA figures from July 2016 show that the number of ‘pets allowed’ rentals were a tiny proportion of overall available rentals. In Sydney, it’s only 2%, while in Melbourne it’s 1%. In Brisbane, it’s 8%, Darwin 5%, Perth 4% and Adelaide 4%, while Hobart seems to be the ‘pet friendliest’ capital city, with 12%.
Justice, who is the managing director of independent pet retail group Just For Pets, says people are forced to give up their pets in order to secure a rental.
“It’s such a small number of (rental) houses that allow you to have pets,” she says.
“Even if you have been a responsible tenant for years, landlords deem having a pet detrimental to a rental property.”
According to research by the University of Queensland, accommodation issues are identified as the reason for surrendering a pet, with 36% of people naming it the reason for giving up their cats, and 20% for dogs.
In 2014/15, 46,595 dogs were received by the RSPCA and 52,804 cats, so the issue impacts thousands of animals and their owners.
Justice is attempting to work with Byron Bay real estate agents and the local council to raise awareness of the issue and work towards a more tolerant approach.
“Right now, the Australian average is about 4% of available rental properties will take pets. If I can get Byron Bay to 20% of properties that will take on pets, it would be an amazing start,” she says.
“I’m really excited about it. If we can get something to happen in Byron Bay, hopefully it leads to something on a grander scale.”
President of the Real Estate Institute of NSW, John Cunningham, says many landlords are gun-shy about allowing pets because of previous bad experiences.
“We do get some landlords who are happy (to allow pets) but they are probably in the minority,” Cunningham says.
“We’ve seen some pretty terrible things happen, not just to gardens but to internals on properties and landlords have to spend a fortune to rectify it, and often the bond doesn’t cover it,” he says.
If passionate pet lovers want to plead their case, Cunningham says, sometimes landlords can be swayed.
“The reality is that if you want a pet and you want to have a rental property, you really need to make an effort as to why that pet would be acceptable,” he says.
“You’ve got to get creative, in my view, and present a case. I saw one who recently did a video testimonial and that was fantastic – you can video your pet and show the landlord what they are like. It also shows the landlord that you are serious.”
Senior Policy Officer for the Tenants Union of NSW, Ned Cutcher, says the issue impacts a growing number of people in Australia, with more people living in rental accommodation for longer.
“It is our position that ‘no pet’ clauses in residential tenancy agreements should be prohibited,” he says.
“It should not be a matter for a landlord for decide whether a tenant should keep a pet. Tenants should have the ultimate responsibility for that decision.
“To say that pets are high risk, that pets just cause damage, that’s based on a bit of old thinking.”
Cutcher says there were already incentives in place for tenants to be responsible pet owners.
“Tenants are responsible to compensate for any damage their pets cause and they are held to be a pretty high standard within their neighbourhood, because if their pets are causing a nuisance that could be a breach of their tenancy agreement,” he says
The Tenants Union of NSW made a submission on its position to the recent review of the Residential Tenancies Act of NSW, but so far no changes to the law have been made.