Pet-inclusive housing will help tenants and landlords

New research has found people living in private rental housing are much more likely to have had to give up a pet due to their housing circumstances than people living in other tenancies.

The research was undertaken by six Australian universities including Swinburne University of Technology for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI). It found that of those who have had to give up a pet to keep their housing, 52 per cent were tenants and 40 per cent were homeowners (usually living in strata title units that restrict pet ownership).

The study is the first of its kind internationally to examine the relationship between living with pets and the entire housing system.

The study found that:

· despite more than 60 per cent of Australian households having a pet, policies remain restrictive across many housing sectors in Australia

· the rental market is the most restrictive – an estimated 15 – 25 per cent of pet relinquishments are related to rental mobility/access and pet restrictions

· property damage by households with pets is no more likely than for households without pets

· progression to pet-inclusive housing policies is critical to enable people living with pets in unsafe and precarious living situations such as domestic violence, or homelessness, to transition to safer housing.

Previous international evidence 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.

The right to keep pets varies

Despite the benefits and the high value that households place on pets, the right of households to keep pets varies markedly depending.

“Our research finds that some housing tenures are more progressive than others, and even homeowners can face restrictions in what pets they can have,” says lead researcher Leader, Housing Futures Research at Swinburne’s Centre for Urban Transitions Professor Wendy Stone.

“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.”

Professor Wendy Stone with her rescue dog Lilli Pilli

Professor Wendy Stone with her rescue dog Lilli Pilli.

In general, tenants in the private rental market face the strongest restrictions, with New South Wales, Western Australian and South Australian legislation giving landlords the right to determine whether a property will consider renters with pets. In Victoria and the ACT 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,” Professor Stone says.

“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 good rights to have a pet, but people living in community housing, in crisis accommodation or in 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.

The need for pet-inclusive policies

The research highlights 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 so that they can keep their pets, such as after a natural disaster or in cases of domestic violence.

Read the full report

The study 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.

It can be downloaded from the AHURI website

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