Pets in properties – is it barking mad? 

There is little doubt that we’re a nation of pet lovers.

According to the RSPCA, there are currently an estimated 28.7 million pets in Australia (with a human population of around 26.3 million, we’re outnumbered!).

We have one of the highest pet ownership rates in the world – around 69 per cent of households have a furry, feathered or finned housemate (48 per cent have a dog, 33 per cent a cat and around 10 per cent have fish or birds). 

The desire to share a home with a pet extends to renters. However, historically, there has been a lack of pet-friendly rentals available.

The Animal Health Alliance estimates that just 10 per cent of rentals are advertised as being pet-friendly.

This lack of pet-friendly homes leads to heartbreaking decisions where tenants have to surrender their beloved pets to a shelter (the RSPCA puts it at one in five of all surrenders) or have them euthanised because they cannot find a rental that allows pets.

Other tenants who cannot bear to be without their pets, have told their landlord or property manager a big porky pie.

A survey from Finder found 10 per cent of renters have concealed a pet from their landlord. 

Pet-friendly rentals become the norm

A lack of pet-friendly rentals has seen state chapters of the RSPCA and various animal welfare groups and shelters implore governments to make it easier to rent with pets.

It’s a message that has been heard and renting with pets has been put on the agenda as jurisdictions reform tenancy legislation. 

Laws which make it easier for tenants to have pets have already come into effect in the Australian Capital Territory (November 2019), Victoria (March 2020), the Northern Territory (January 2021) and Queensland (October 2022).

In these jurisdictions, the landlord cannot unreasonably refuse a tenant’s request to have a pet.

Western Australia, New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania have all proposed changes to their tenancy laws to enable renters to keep a pet with landlord permission (though permission cannot be refused without an acceptable reason).

In some jurisdictions, the landlord can impose reasonable conditions on allowing the pet (but it should be noted that a pet bond can only be requested in WA).

Of course, assistance animals cannot be refused in any state or territory. 

The risks

It’s good news for pet-loving tenants around the country but, for many landlords and property managers, it’s fraught.

There is a concern that allowing pets in a rental property will lead to problems like issues with neighbours (think noise complaints and straying cats) and damage to the property (think hard flooring ruined by nails and claws, urine on carpets, torn fly screens or clawed window coverings, or damage from chewing, scratching or digging).

Now, some pets may cause some damage, but it’s the pet owner’s responsibility to fix that damage.

If the tenant fails to make good on their obligation, the landlord may be able to use the bond to pay for repairs or cleaning.

But what if the bond money is insufficient or the damage is extensive? This is where landlord insurance comes in.

Okay, I have a proviso on that statement.

It’s where landlord insurance comes in if the provider offers pet damage cover.

And the thing is, the majority of landlord insurance providers don’t offer this protection. 

EBM RentCover is one of the few providers that does cover damage to fixed contents and buildings caused by a domestic pet living on the rental premises (please note we don’t cover vermin, rodents or wildlife) – and, with a limit of $70,000, it is one of the most generous in the market.

Our cover also doesn’t have any onerous conditions like the pet having to be named on the lease, giving landlords added comfort in being covered even if they weren’t aware of a pet living at the rental, or extra inspections having to be carried out (you only have to inspect the property within six months of the lease commencing and annually thereafter).

Some providers will also impose sub-limits and high excesses on the cover – not EBM RentCover. There is no sub-limit on pet damage claims (up to $70,000 is covered) and the excess is only $400.  

The benefits

Despite there being some risk that a pet may cause damage to the rental – which the tenant is obligated to fix or for which landlord insurance may cover in the event that they don’t – there are far more reasons to go pet-friendly.

There are numerous benefits to pet ownership including enhanced physical and mental health and wellbeing through companionship and security.

Reducing the number of pets being surrendered and euthanised is also a huge plus.

There are specific benefits for landlords too. These include:

  • Competitive advantage over rentals that aren’t pet-friendly – there’s huge demand and few properties. That might not seem important in current market conditions but could be valuable in the future.
  • Lower vacancies (and lower advertising costs) due to high demand.
  • Increased rents – many pet owners are willing to pay more to secure a rental for them and their furry friend. Tenants may also be prepared to negotiate special terms and conditions about their pets.
  • Longer leases – pet owners are often willing to sign longer leases to avoid the hassle of trying to find a new rental that allows their pet.
  • Improved security – a dog at the premises may act as a deterrent to thieves (they tend to avoid places where attention is drawn by barking).
  • Honesty – by allowing a pet, there is no need for a tenant to hide one away, giving the landlord and agent better control over the property.
  • Responsible pet owners tend to be responsible tenants – most owners ensure their pets are well groomed, socialised and that a high-level of cleanliness is maintained. 
  • Happy tenants – a happy tenant may be more likely to pay their rent, treat the rental like it was their own and be less demanding of the landlord. 

In light of the changing legislation across the country making it easier for tenants to have a pet, landlords and agents may need to embrace pet-friendly arrangements.

There are many benefits to allowing pets and, with the right landlord insurance policy, any major concerns can be protected against too.

Check that the policy your landlord client has covers pet damage, especially if the rental is in a jurisdiction where it’s no longer an option to say ‘no’ to pets. 

Most pets act purr-fectly, but in case they don’t, you’d be barking mad not to have a policy that covers misdemeanours!

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