Proposed changes to rental tenancy laws may deliver a win for renters and their pets.
More Australians are living in rental accommodation for longer periods.
Cities are striving to slow urban sprawl by creating areas with higher density living.
Household structures are changing to include more single-person and senior citizen occupants.
These structural changes, combined with the benefits pets provide to social and mental wellbeing, are leading state governments to amend property rental rules to give tenants increased rights to keep pets.
Animal Medicines Australia (AMA) estimates there are now more than 29 million pets in Australia.
Dogs and cats are still the favourites, with 40 per cent of households owning a dog and 27 per cent owning a cat.
These pet owners are increasingly treating their dogs and cats like children, spending more than $13 billion annually to keep their pets fed, healthy and accessorised.
Before COVID-19 hit, the pet industry had an estimated annual rate of growth of 7 per cent.
The trend in pet humanisation is set to continue to drive sales of traditional products and services such as veterinarians, grooming, training, washing and boarding services.
As pet humanisation becomes more common, there is likely to be a range of other inventive opportunities for entrepreneurs to pursue, such as speciality clothes, pet resorts and spas, palliative services for terminally ill pets, vegetarian pet food, yard cleaning and pet-portrait artists.
Anything that increases or decreases pet ownership has a direct impact on the pet industry’s growth rate.
One untapped market is the people living in rental or strata accommodation who are not allowed pets.
According to the AMA, 29 per cent of people interested in having a pet cited barriers posed by landlords, strata laws or body corporate rules.
It has been reported that between 15 and 30 per cent of the dogs and cats surrendered to shelters each year are from owners who could not take their pets when they moved to a new rental property.
In Western Australia, rental tenants currently need to get permission from their landlord to keep a pet, and no reason needs to be given by the owner for refusing a request.
Tenants have no further recourse if the request is refused.
That may soon change, as the state government is proposing to amend the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), with one of the reforms being considered giving tenants increased rights to keep a pet.
The proposed changes may follow Victoria’s pet rental reforms, which came into effect on March 2.
While tenants in Victoria must still seek their landlord’s consent to bring a new pet into the property, a landlord can only refuse a pet request if the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) orders that it is reasonable to do so.
It does not matter when a lease started.
A landlord has 14 days (starting the day after they received a pet request) to apply to VCAT if they want to refuse consent for a pet.
If the tenant does not hear from the landlord within this 14-day period, the tenant can keep the requested pet at the rental property.
I believe there are instances where a landlord should have the right to ban pets without seeking permission from the government.
Take, for example, someone who is moving interstate for six months and wants a short-term tenant for their furnished property.
It would be unreasonable to allow a short-term tenant to have a large dog rummaging through valuable furnishings or digging up a manicured garden.
It is hoped any new government regulation provides guidance on what is viewed as reasonable for landlords to exclude pets without seeking formal approval.
Another concern is how the proposed pet rental reforms will interact with WA’s Strata Laws.
In WA, there are about 97,000 people living in apartments.
Some strata property schemes have amended and registered their own bylaws regarding pet ownership, making it exceedingly difficult (if not impossible) to keep a pet.
The WA government’s stated aim in reviewing rental laws is the belief that Western Australians in rental properties deserve the opportunity to have a place where they can enjoy their lives, raise a family, have a pet, and call it home.
If that is the goal, then strata building bylaws should not unreasonably restrict the keeping of a fit-for-purpose pet, especially by the elderly.
With COVID-19 disrupting many of the government’s legislative initiatives, it may take time to finalise changes to the RTA.
The innovative pet industry, however, is sure to be ready to provide the products and services that will make it easier for people in rental and strata accommodation to keep pets.
David Kobelke spent 15 years managing CCIWA’s Australian industry participation unit.