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Pet-inclusive housing will help both tenants and landlords: report

February 22, 2021 Lifestyle News No Comments Email Email

Even though more than 60 per cent of Australian households have a pet, people living in private rental are much more likely to have had to give up a pet due to their housing circumstances than people living in other tenures, new AHURI research identifies. Of those who’ve had to give up a pet to keep their housing, 52 per cent are tenants and 40 per cent are home owners (usually living in strata title units that restricts pet ownership).

The new AHURI report, the first study of its kind internationally to examine the relationship between living with pets and the entire housing system, was undertaken for AHURI by researchers from Swinburne University of Technology, Western Sydney University, University of South Australia, Curtin University, Adelaide University and The University of Sydney.

Previous international evidence examined for the study has found widespread social, health and economic benefits of having a pet for both individuals and communities, with better health outcomes in both adults and children. However, despite the benefits and the high value that households place on pets, the right of households to keep pets varies markedly depending on the housing sector and tenure within which they live.

‘Our research finds that some housing tenures are more progressive than others, and even home owners can face restrictions in what pets they can have’, says lead researcher Professor Wendy Stone from Swinburne University of Technology.

‘For example, strata title regulations across the country empower housing complexes that use strata title rules to determine whether pets are permitted. However, legislation is gradually changing across the country with a recent ruling in Victoria stating that pets cannot be unilaterally banned.’

In general, tenants in the private rental market face the strongest restrictions, with NSW, WA and SA legislation giving landlords the right to freely determine whether a property will consider renters with pets or not. In Victoria and the ACT the residential tenancy laws require that landlords do not unreasonably refuse tenants’ requests to keep a companion animal.

‘While landlords frequently cite concerns about property damage for refusing pets, there is little evidence to support this’, says Professor Stone.

‘There are mechanisms, such as insurances and ‘pet bonds’, available to manage risks, and these costs are currently borne by tenants. Indeed, there is some evidence that pet-friendly rentals return higher rents and are leased more easily than equivalent quality properties that do not allow pets.’

Openly providing pet-friendly housing also directly addresses issues with illegal pet keeping. When pets are kept illegally, landlords and owners’ corporations are less able to regulate or monitor companion animal practices, for example, through requiring bonds or including property cleaning and maintenance requirements in property agreements.

Tenants in public housing usually have very good rights to have a pet, but people living in community housing, in crisis accommodation or in head-leasing arrangements (i.e. housing leased from the private rental sector and re-rented to social housing tenants) can face restrictions similar to those experienced by private rental tenants. Nevertheless, the research does highlight some models of innovation where discretion is used very well.

‘Launch Housing in Victoria started a pilot program in 2018 which allows people to bring their pets into their crisis accommodation services’, says Professor Stone.

‘This is significant as most homelessness support services do not allow pets in their accommodation, meaning many pet lovers who are experiencing homelessness fall through the cracks of the housing system. In addition, pets entering Launch House accommodation are given a vet check by Lort Smith Animal Hospital, who also fund any health treatment the animals require.’

Such pet-inclusive policies can help prevent people remaining in unsafe and precarious living situations in order to keep their pets, such as after a natural disaster or in cases of domestic violence.

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