GREENS BILL: Renting with Pets

Today Mark introduced a Greens' Private Members Bill to allow people to rent with their pets, other than in exceptional circumstances. This bill addresses an area that is well overdue for reform and, if it passes, it will have a significant positive effect on many lives — both human and animal.


Residential Tenancies (Renting with Pets) Amendment Bill 2019

Today, I am pleased to be introducing the Residential Tenancies (Renting with Pets) Amendment Bill 2019 on behalf of the Greens. This bill addresses an area that is well overdue for reform, and if it passes it will have a significant positive effect on many lives—both human and animal.

As a nation, we Australians love our pets. We have one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world and many of us see our pets not just as companions but as treasured members of the family. Some people refer to their dogs and cats as their 'fur babies', which shows the important place these pets have within families.

So you can imagine how heartbreaking it would be to have to move house and be told that you are not allowed to take your beloved pet with you to your new home. Having to abandon the family pet in order to have a place to live is not a choice that anyone should have to make. But sadly, this is a reality for many South Australians.

In South Australia, during the 2018-19 year, 259 pets were surrendered to the RSPCA and 108 were surrendered to the Animal Welfare League simply because their owners could not find pet-friendly rental accommodation. That is a total of 367 pets that ended up in animal shelters in South Australia last year due to the lack of pet-friendly rental homes. That is 90 dogs, 223 cats and kittens and 54 other pets left at two animal shelters—equating to one South Australian pet each day of the year.

I am told that the Animal Welfare League has had to divert some of the pets being surrendered to other places while they are undertaking a redevelopment of their Wingfield shelter, so this number is understated. The statistics for the previous two years were significantly higher, so the real figure is probably closer to 400 surrendered pets each year. The number of pets surrendered to the RSPCA due to the lack of pet-friendly rentals represents 10 per cent of the total surrenders to their shelter, so if we can address the shortage of pet-friendly rental accommodation this will have a significant positive benefit.

Despite the great job that both the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League do with these surrendered pets, the experience of these animals being taken from their loving home with their family to a life of solitude behind bars in a kennel or cage is highly stressful and traumatic. My staff visited the RSPCA's Lonsdale shelter last week to meet some of these surrendered pets, and they told me how affected these animals were by what was happening to them. The impact on them was obvious.

What has been harder to see is the impact that it has had on their owners, most of whom were reluctant to even talk to us about having to give up their pet. This heartbreaking situation needs to change. According to the 2016 census, 28.5 per cent of South Australians live in rental properties, but when you look at the rental market in Adelaide you find that fewer than 5 per cent of rentals allow pets. What is abundantly clear is that there is a massive shortage of pet-friendly rental properties, despite the fact that pet owners can make responsible and reliable long-term tenants.

Melanie from Brompton wrote to me recently about her experience. She said:

"Renting with pets is a huge issue in SA. If there are 300 rentals listed online in your price range, once you select the 'pet friendly' category that drops to maybe 5 if you're lucky. And those that do allow pets are often in pretty poor condition. It took me about 4 months of hunting on real estate websites every day to finally find a decent place that would allow my dog. And I'm paying significantly more than I budgeted for, but I'd rather eat ramen noodles forever than give up my dog. I was lucky because I was on a week-to-week lease before this, so I had the luxury of taking 4 months to find a place, but lots of people don't have that time. Pets end up dumped in shelters all the time because people can't find pet friendly rentals. It's horrible that people are being forced to give up a family member to have a roof over their head. I'd love to see laws in SA change so that renting with pets becomes a viable option for people. Right now, it is damn near impossible."

I want to put a few other reports on the record. We have asked for people's stories via various social media and other sites. I want to give you maybe four or five of those.

Kate wrote to me, saying:

"I am trying to get into the rental market from my parents family home. We are finding it extremely difficult finding a house that will even consider pets that suits us, our price and in an area that is suitable. All currently have turned us down as soon as we've said we have a golden retriever. She is family. She is my child. Other people can have their kids in a rental home. Why can't I have my dog who is my child with me? I shouldn't have to give her up to have a roof over my head. You wouldn't abandon a child, why are people expected to abandon pets."

Maria said:

"I currently live alone and have a pet dog who I might have to give up because my lease is up in February and my rent is too high to renew. There is a serious lack of houses that are near to my work that allow pets that are at a price I can afford on my own. My other option is to try to hide my dog and risk being evicted if she was to be found which isn't a good option either. I have a high stress job and coming home to a pet greatly reduces that and makes my life more enjoyable."

Charlotte wrote to me, saying:

"My partner and I struggled significantly to find a place that would allow our two cats, and prospective dog. When we found our current house, we were upfront with the real estate agent about wanting to get a dog, and he assured us it would be fine. We signed the lease for 12 months and after settling in, asked if we could get a dog. We had been told we could get one by the real estate agent at the open house, so this was just a formality. We found a dog we fell in love with, and waited to hear back from the landlord. We heard that we weren't able to get a dog at this time, as they had already approved two cats (who we moved in with). They said they'd like to wait until after our first inspection. After our first inspection, we asked again. We received the same answer—no. We asked for some more information about why, and received none.

Months went by, and our first 12 months were almost up. We really liked the house, so we decided to ask the landlord (through the real estate agent) if we could get a dog. We said that it was important to us and would be a large factor in us renewing our lease. A few weeks went by, and we didn't hear back. We asked our real estate agent to follow up. More time went by, and our lease was about to run out, so not wanting to have no place to live, we renewed it, thinking we would hear back about it soon. It's been almost 6 months and our landlord hasn't even bothered to give our real estate agent and answer. We've followed up so many times, but have now accepted that we'll need to struggle to find another place…if we'd like to have a dog."

Dianne posted on my website the following:

"While my kids were growing up we had a king charles spaniel and we had to hide her as most places would not allow animals. Now my kids are grown and I am animal free. I would like a cat and a dog or 2 cats, they prolong life, they reduce stress, and they have every right to have a home like humans do. There is a lot of mental health issues today and pets help to make changes in this. I'm not sure of the statistics but one third of the population cannot buy their own home, should we not be allowed a pet because of this?

My story right now is, my kids are all grown up and moved out of our family rented home I stayed with my son for 18 months trying to find a place that would allow me to have a cat, during 8 months of hard looking daily not one came up. The rental market is full of extremely uninhabitable homes that landlords think we should pay top dollar for yet still not allowed animals. The unit I'm in now wants to know if I even get a gold fish, lol, seriously this was stipulated to me while handing my bond over."

The final one is from Kristina, posted on my website:

"I own a rental property and I encourage the land agents to accept tenants that have pets because I would not be able to survive without my fur babies. Landlords need to lighten up because karma is watching and to deny people the right to a pet especially when they are alone is very wrong. I hope this bill gets through."

I would say that we do need more landlords like Kristina.

A significant part of the problem which my bill addresses is that the default position of most residential tenancy agreements is that pets are not allowed. This bill flips this around, making it the default position that pets are allowed. There will, of course, be circumstances where keeping a certain type of pet or pets in certain types of rental premises will not be appropriate, and the bill allows for these exceptions.

However, rather than the landlord or their agent taking a blanket 'no pets' approach to residential tenancy agreements, if the landlord does not consent to the tenant's application for a pet or pets, they can apply to SACAT (South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal) and SACAT will make the decision, having considered the circumstances in each case. The Greens believe that this is a much fairer system than we currently have.

The organisations we have consulted with on this bill include Shelter SA, SACOSS, the South Australian Tenants' Information Advisory Service, the Australian consumer advocacy organisation CHOICE, Community Housing Council of SA, Better Renting, RSPCA, and the Real Estate Institute of South Australia who are yet to respond despite having this bill for some time.

The CEO of the RSPCA, Paul Stevenson, said in a statement:

"259 pets were surrendered to RSPCA SA in FY19 due to rentals not allowing pets. With 62% of Australian households having pets, reform is urgently needed to improve the prospects for humans to rent accommodation with their pets. Effective reform will decrease the strain on RSPCA resources and reduce the trauma experienced currently by owners and their surrendered pets. We support the aims of the proposed bill."

The Greens are not alone in our campaign to make it easier for people to rent with their pets. Shelter SA have also been campaigning to allow tenants to have pets as part of their Make Renting Fair campaign. In their position statement on the Residential Tenancies Act 1995, they say:

"A key issue that is essential to redressing the imbalance of power and rights between landlords and tenants is allowing tenants to have pets on the rental premises, for which there are currently no such provisions specified in the RTA."

I have a petition on my website which calls on the South Australian parliament to support laws that make pets welcome in rental properties. The number of South Australians who have signed the petition is growing by the minute. Earlier today there were 400 signatures. It is now up to 650, just in the last few hours. This is an issue that many South Australians believe is ripe for law reform.

Both Victoria and the ACT have amended their residential tenancies laws to make it easier for people to rent with their pets. My bill has been broadly based on their new systems. An explanation of how the regime will work in South Australia under this Greens bill is outlined in the explanation of clauses which I will seek leave to include.

Pets play such an important part in our lives and have a huge positive influence. They improve our lives in so many ways. Owning a pet has been shown to have psychological benefits for child development and for adults and a positive impact on our health and wellbeing. Basically, pets make us happier and healthier. Let's change the law to make pets welcome in South Australia.

Finally, I commend the bill to the chamber and seek leave to insert the explanation of clauses into Hansard without my reading it.

Leave granted.

EXPLANATION OF CLAUSES

Part 1 - Preliminary

1—Short title

2—Commencement

3—Amendment provisions

These clauses are formal.

Part 2 - Amendment of Residential Tenancies Act 1995

4—Insertion of Part 4 Division 6A

This clause inserts a new Part 4 Division 6A as follows:

66A Keeping of pets on rented premises

This clause allows people to keep a pet or pets at their rented premises, other than in certain circumstances. 

Renters are required to request their landlord’s consent to keep a pet or pets. The landlord can respond and provide written consent, including imposing reasonable conditions relating to the number of pets, cleaning and maintenance relating to the keeping of pets and any other condition approved by SACAT (the Tribunal). However, if the landlord has not given written consent or applied to the Tribunal within 14 days after receiving the application, the landlord will be taken to have granted consent.

66B Landlord may seek Tribunal orders

This clause provides that a landlord can apply to the Tribunal for an order to refuse consent to the keeping of a pet or pets, or a pet of a specified kind, under a residential tenancy agreement. A landlord can also apply for an order excluding all pets, or pets of a specified kind from the premises under a residential tenancy agreement, from the date specified in the order.

An application must be made to the Tribunal within 14 days after receipt of the application under section 66A(2).

The Tribunal can then make:

- an order to refuse consent to the keeping of a pet or pets, or a pet of a specified kind;

- an order excluding all pets, or pets of a specified kind from the premises;

- an order revoking a consent under section 66A;

- an order varying or revoking a condition of consent under 66A;

- an order permitting a specified pet or pets, or pets of a specified kind, to be kept on the premises; or

- any other orders as the Tribunal considers appropriate.

The factors that the Tribunal must consider include the type of pet, the suitability of the premises, the character and nature of the appliances, fixtures and fittings, whether it would result in unreasonable damage or pose an unacceptable risk to public health and safety or any other matter that the Tribunal considers relevant. 

The Tribunal may impose conditions on the consent as they consider appropriate.

The landlord may also apply to the Tribunal for an order for a pet or pets to be excluded from the premises where the pet or pets are being kept on the premises without consent.

The following orders can be made for a specified period or if not specified will remain in place until a further order by the Tribunal regardless of whether a new residential tenancy agreement is entered into during the period -

- an order to refuse consent to the keeping of a pet or pets of a specified kind;

- an order excluding all pets or pets of a specified kind;

- an order permitting a specified pet or pets or pets of a specified kind; or

- any ancillary or other order under 66B(4)(f).

An order that does not specify a period will be able to give certainty in the longer term, to the landlord and any prospective tenants about the keeping of pets on the premises.

66C Limitation of landlord's liability

This clause clarifies that a landlord or their agent has no additional duty of care arising from a consent to keep a pet or pets.