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Many landlords are wary of embracing pet owners as tenants, owing to concerns about stained carpets and chewed door frames. But pet-friendliness could be a major boost to your bank balance, as pet-owning tenants are often willing to pay extra rent.
YOU SEE them everywhere – in strollers, wearing little outfits, walking the streets, on social media. Pets have long been a household companion as ‘man’s best friend’, and it’s a lifestyle that is unlikely to change any time soon.
According to online rentals marketplace Rent.com.au, over one third of renters are house-hunting with a furry friend in tow. These potential tenants actively link their profile to a pet, resulting in over 50,000 ‘pet résumés’, with the majority being dogs.
For landlords, a prospective tenant with a pet can be an instant turn-off, which is why many animal owners have a difficult time finding homes to rent.
“Industry figures suggest that less than 10% of available rental properties accept tenants with pets, while hundreds of pets are forfeited to animal rescue organisations each year when their owners can’t find a suitable rental property to live in,” says Carolyn Parrella, executive manager of Terri Scheer Insurance.
According to the Australian Veterinary Association, 30% of dogs and cats that were abandoned by owners in 2017 were given up due to accommodation issues – and Dogs Victoria conducted a survey that revealed over 40% of dog owners had trouble renting.
“The ability to move into a rental property with your pet is an issue that hits close to home for renters,” says Greg Bader, CEO of Rent.
“For around one third [of renters], the right to pet ownership is crucial. However, we find that, with most of our listings, landlords and agents choose not to specify whether pets will be accepted or not – they’ve left this open to their discretion.”
Pros and cons of pets
Many landlords fear the potential damage an animal can do – they can scratch the floors, stain the flooring and mess up the carpets.
The ‘pet smell’ from the animal’s fur or excrement can also leave a lasting stench, particularly if you have wood furnishings, as the smell penetrates the material. If you live in a high-density apartment complex, the noise a pet makes can disturb your neighbours and lead to friction.
For all of these reasons and more, Australian landlords generally have an unfavourable attitude towards pet-owning tenants. But that attitude could be costing landlords, in more ways than one.
There are many positives to leasing to a pet owner – first and foremost, renter loyalty.
“Tenants who find a pet-friendly rental property may choose to sign longer leases, knowing they can keep their beloved pets. This could mean landlords are able to rent their properties sooner and reduce advertising costs,” says Parrella.
Furthermore, landlords might discover that, by becoming pet-friendly, they could pick up a sizeable amount of additional rent along the way.
According to the Dogs Victoria survey, pet-owning tenants generally agree to special provisions in the rental contract, including pet bonds, additional cleaning fees and increased rent. For these tenants, spending a little more for their pet’s sake is a small price to pay.
In fact, pet owners are likely to fork out up to 14% more rent than usual for a pet-friendly rental property, according to the Australian Companion Animals Council.
Consider this: if your area’s median market rent is $600 per week, as a landlord you could earn an extra $4,370 each year simply by allowing Fido to reside there. This was a light-bulb moment for Sydney investor Kade, who owns a unit in a small boutique complex in Brisbane around 2km from the CBD. Kade earns over $6,700 more per year in rental income than another landlord in the complex, simply because he allows the tenant to have a pet dog.
“I get $130 more rent a week than the person with the unit above me – who should be getting a little a bit more than me, simply for being a floor above – because I let my tenant have a pet,” he says.
“She’s been there three years and just renewed for another year. The unit is immaculate, and there have never been any complaints from neighbours.”
Allowing your tenant to have a pet can be a relatively safe bet with the right systems in place. For instance, in Western Australia, landlords are allowed to charge a one-off pet bond of $260. In 2017, Victoria’s state tenancy laws were also modified to allow renters to keep pets, unless otherwise indicated in the body corporate or strata by-laws.
The rules around pets
Many landlords worry about the damage a pet can cause, and rightly so – an untrained dog or cat could cause chaos, in terms of mess, stains and smells.
But your fear of pet damage can be partially overcome, Parrella explains, by “petproofing your properties and having an appropriate landlord insurance policy”.
“Pet-proofing can include installing animal runs to enclose cats and dogs in specific areas of the home, or replacing carpets with tiles and floorboards that are easier to maintain.”
For Kade, it’s also about knowing what rights are actually afforded to a landlord in a strata property.
“From my experience on many strata committees, I think a lot of owners assume all strata buildings have a no-pet policy in the by-laws, so they think there is no use in them even thinking about allowing their tenant to have a pet,” he says.
“But often the strata plans are registered with the default option – that the body corporate cannot reasonably refuse to give permission for a pet.”
The key to making such an arrangement work for both landlord and tenant is to foster openness in coming to an agreement. For Kade, this included working out an agreement with the tenant to obtain the pet’s details, including the ID chip number, registration certificate, and vet information.
“Customers are putting in the effort to not only create a profile for their pets but then share that information with prospective landlords and property managers to improve their odds of application success,” says Rent’s Bader.
This honesty is crucial, as messy situations can and have happened when one party has been dishonest or unclear. Real Estate Institute of Australia president Malcolm Gunning has seen and heard of many such cases.
“Often, both parties would agree to have one small dog, and they end up with two or three dogs, which cause trouble. Or tenants would carry a dog in, then smuggle it in and out. That’s quite common,” Gunning says.
“What is important from both parties is common sense and an understanding of what’s reasonable. There is regulation now. If it’s a strata-title building, which a lot of inner-city buildings are, then the strata corporation will have parameters around tenants and owners having pets. In most cases, [it involves] the registration of that animal with the strata and with the managing agent.”
Ultimately, allowing a tenant to keep a pet on a rental property can have a lot of upside, he says.
“In most cases, there’s no problem. I live in an apartment myself in Surry Hills, and it’s very transparently pet-friendly. A landlord in Australia needs to be open-minded as far as pets are concerned,” Gunning says.
“By allowing tenants with pets, you’re appealing to a broader market.”