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In-Depth: Special pet bond scheme

Anyone that has spent time in any given suburb can tell you one thing for certain: Australians love their pets!  Approximately 63% of us own a pet and these furry, feathered and finned friends are more than just our companions – 88% of Aussie pet owners consider their pets as cherished members of the family.

Unfortunately if you’re a renter, you are probably hard-pressed to find a pet-friendly home.  In 2013, the REA reported that just 5% of active rental property listings in Australia welcomed pets.  The ultimate result of this is that renters are forced to give them up for adoption.  RSPCA Victoria confirmed this, reporting having taken in over 700 pets in the last financial year due to landlords’ objections to them.

WANT TO RENT WITH A PET?  YOU’LL HAVE TO PAY.

In order to create a more pet-friendly rental market, it has been proposed that the Victorian Government include a special bond scheme specifically for pet owners.  This bond would be paid in addition to the usual bond.  In theory, the pet bond would cover any damages created by pets, thus inspiring more landlords to accept pets into their rental properties.

The Make Renting Fair campaign is calling on the Victorian Government to reject the proposed special bond scheme for pet owners in its reform of the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA).  Why?  Because data indicates that it wouldn’t do the job it was designed to do.

Any damage caused by pets is already covered by the rental bond.
Many landlords object to their renters keeping pets due to the potential for damage to the property, but the RTA already includes ample protections for landlords against damage to their rental properties.  There is no evidence indicating that renters with pets caused more damage to rental properties than any other group.

In fact, an American study proved that fears about damage caused by pets are generally unfounded.  According to this data, 63% of landlords who were worried about pets in their rental properties didn’t actually have any firsthand experience with the problems they identified as causes for concern – they can’t truly understand the implications of renting with pets.  Furthermore, it was found that pet owners did less damage on average to rental properties than renters with children.  Any damage that did occur cost significantly less to rectify than the average rent or than landlords had expected.

Asking for an additional bond disadvantages low-income and vulnerable tenants.
The establishment of a pet bond would create two classes of renters: Those who can afford to pay more to rent with pets, and those who cannot.  In a rental market that is already unaffordable for many renters, adding a pet bond on top of the usual expenses of moving house won’t make renting easier, just more expensive.  Essentially, renters who are unable to afford to pay a large additional fee upfront would be punished by being forced to give up their beloved pets.

Furthermore, pet bonds are likely to increase disputes about the refunding of bonds in VCAT, where landlords and tenants argue about what damage was actually caused by pets and what damage is considered the ‘normal wear and tear’ of a property over time.

Having a pet bond wouldn’t make any difference to landlords anyway.
The overarching purpose of a proposed pet bond is to inspire more landlords to make their rental properties pet-friendly.  However, a study from Consumer Affairs Victoria proved that this is not the case: The majority of landlords indicated that they wouldn’t be more inclined to accept tenants’ pets if a pet bond was established.  If empirical data confirms that a pet bond won’t solve the very problem it is designed for, why should it be included in the RTA?

Having a pet bond is a silly double-standard.
Consider this: When a renter wants to have a child, they don’t need to tell their landlord or agent.  Despite evidence showing that renters with children cause more damage to rental properties on average than other groups, there is no special bond scheme for children.  If renters are viewed as competent enough to ensure their housing caters to their children, why can the same not be said about their pets?

A PET-FRIENDLY RENTER STATE

Making Victoria a more pet-friendly renter state should not be dependent on how much more money someone pays to live in a rental property.  Rather, it should be based on the benefits that pets bring to their humans and the positive effects that renting with pets has on the rental market as a whole.

Studies show that not allowing pets in rental properties had a significant impact on security of tenure, with tenants more likely to breach their duties by hiding pets and facing subsequent eviction.  Furthermore, tenants who are allowed to rent with pets tend to stay in their rental properties 2.5 times longer on average.

Renters pay for exclusive possession of their rental property.  So long as they are not breaching their responsibilities under the RTA, they should be able to live in these properties as they see fit.  This should include the ability to keep pets.  When empirical data proves that renting with pets is actually good for renters and the market as a whole, denying renters this right simply doesn’t make sense.

 

GET INVOLVED! You can help us spread the word about ruling out punitive measures that would harm Victoria’s over 1.5 million renters by signing the petition and emailing your local MP in support of the Make Renting Fair campaign.

 

References:

  1. RSPCA Victoria, Submission to the Residential Tenancies Act Review: Rights and Responsibilities of Landlords and Tenants – Issues Paper, 2016
  2. P Carlisle-Frank et al, Companion animal renters and pet friendly housing in the US, Anthrozoös, Vol. 18, Issue 1, 2005
  3. E Power, Renting with pets: a pathway to housing in security?, Housing Studies, 32:3, 336-360, 25 July 2016
  4. E Y Sweeney, Rental experiences of tenants, landlords, property managers, and parks residents in Victoria, p72, 2016