The time has finally come to let tenants have pets. We explain how it can work to keep both parties happy. Are we breaching Human Rights by not allowing tenants to have pets?

There is a new victim in the apparent rental crisis across New Zealand. Pango, the pet dog of a Porirua tenant is in trouble. The tenant’s landlord is selling the rental property so this tenant has to find a new property to rent that will allow pets. Unfortunately for Pango, this is not proving easy and Pango is not alone.

In a recent article that made the news, it was reported that a number of tenants are being forced to give up their beloved pets in an attempt to secure a rental property. The apparent shortage of rental stock is proving to be a major obstacle for tenants who have pets and in particular, dogs. This has been an ongoing problem for many years but as rental stock becomes more scarce, the problem is being exemplified. Many landlords may feel that they are spoilt for choice when they rent out a property. If there are multiple tenants who are applying for a property, it is solely dependent on the goodwill of the landlord as to whether they will accept a tenant who has a dog. This is pretty unfair. If I own my own home, then who is to stop me from having a pooch as part of the family but if you rent your home you may not be so lucky.

Is it time to change our rules so that tenants can own pets without the necessary consent of the landlord?

'I cried the whole way home': Sharp increase in renting Kiwis forced to give up their dogs – stuff.co.nz 23rd May 2021

Pango is in serious trouble as Casandra is struggling to find a new rental in Porirua that will take them.
Read the full article on Stuff

Time to let the dogs in!

In our opinion, the law should change. In fact, back in 2015 in one of the first articles that I ever wrote, I argued back then that it was unfair how perfectly acceptable tenants were being overlooked for rental properties due to the fact that they owned a dog. Six years later, my views have not changed.

Many years ago when I was a Property Manager, I encountered many excellent tenants who were struggling to find accommodation due to the fact that hardly any landlords accepted pets. What I used to do was to show them the property, even though the landlord specifically stated that they wanted no pets. If they liked the property, I could usually convince the landlord to put the tenant on a three month trial period (couldn’t do that now!!) and got the tenants to provide council records of the dog as well as sign a separate pet agreement that confirmed that they would treat the carpets for fleas as well as have the carpets commercially cleaned (again, unacceptable now with our nanny, pedantic state!!).

What you may likely find is that tenants who commit to these clauses typically turned out to be outstanding tenants who were truly house proud and just grateful that we would give them a go. I cannot think of a time when taking such an approach ever backfired.

So why, six years on, are we still debating whether tenants should be allowed pets and why was it left out of the recent Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2020?

Why were pets left out of the recent reforms?

When the discussion documents for the proposed changes were announced back in 2018, many, including myself believed that tenants being allowed to have pets would have certainly been passed and become law. However, when the first reading of the Act was introduced, it surprised many to see that the introduction of pets in rentals was omitted.

A document released by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development covering questions around the reforms which was released in September 2020, went into why the issue around pets was left out of the Amendment Act.

The reform document stated that the issue around pets was the most debated of the proposed changes with strongly opposing views held. In the opinion of the Government, their reasoning was because it caused so much debate and there was such an even split, it needed more time to come up with a solution.

In submissions made by stakeholders around the issue around pets, 83% of landlords considered that landlords should be able to decline pet requests without giving a reason. Unsurprisingly, tenants believe that pet ownership should not be a privilege reserved only for homeowners. The Government has yet to make a decision.

As rental properties and in particular, three-bedroom homes which are always in short supply and are typically suitable for dogs become increasingly hard to find, many tenants are being forced to give up their pets.

In our opinion, tenants should be allowed pets but there should be rules in place to protect the landlord’s investment as well as protect the wider community.

To me, it makes sense to allow a tenant the right to have a dog, but the landlord should be able to place certain terms into the Tenancy Agreement that gives added protection. For example, having in the agreement that the tenant agrees to allow the landlord to organise professional carpet cleaning and flea control at the end of the tenancy. Maybe landlords can stipulate what breeds of dog are suitable? The landlord should be able to state how many pets the tenants can have. The landlord should also be able to state in the Tenancy Agreement that the tenants agree to abide by the Dog Control Act 1996 which sets out statutory regulations in relation to the ownership and control of dogs. The outcome of failing to abide by these rules would mean that the dog would have to be removed from the property or if the tenant fails to give up the dog, then the tenancy can be terminated. This could also fall into the antisocial tenant category that came into effect in February 2021.

If the tenant is renting in a Body Corporate, then Body Corporate rules will override the Residential Tenancies Act if the rules state that occupants cannot have pets.

Pets play such an important part in the emotional well-being of individuals as well as families who own them. Every dog owner I have spoken with has stated that the dog is part of the family. This leads us to the next point.

In our 2020 Great Property Management Survey, it was split evenly between those in the industry who believe that tenants should be allowed pets and those who don't.

Is refusing to allow pets a breach of Human Rights?

If a dog is truly a member of the family, are we breaching the Human Rights Act by not allowing a tenant to rent property due to the fact that they have a dog? Section 12 of the Residential Tenancies Act states that discrimination is an unlawful act. Maximum exemplary damages can be as high as $6,500.

Then take a look at section 21 of the Human Rights Act. This outlines what the 13 grounds of discrimination are. Here it states that you cannot discriminate on family status. You could argue, even though a dog is not human, the family clearly are and therefore a family has been discriminated against due to the fact that they own a dog.

In my opinion, the issue has never been the damage that has been done by the pets, more so issues around neglect by the tenants. In the renowned Tenancy Tribunal case of Guo v Kork, the Tenancy Tribunal rightful rules in favour of the landlord after a sick dog continued to urinate and vomit on the relatively new carpets, meaning that at the end of the tenancy, the landlord was forced to replace the carpets. The tenants argued that this was accidental damage and therefore, they should not be liable.

In the end, common sense prevailed and the adjudicator ruled in favour of the landlord awarding $10,000 for the replacement of the carpets.

Landlords can insure themselves against damages caused by pets whilst tenants can be held liable for the full damage caused by their pets if they fail to control them. Therefore, we believe that the time has come to show some heart and change the Residential Tenancies Act to allow tenants to have pets in their homes.

So, to all of you landlords out there who own a dog. Ask yourself, would you give up your dog for your home and not be resentful?

It is now time to let the dogs into rental properties.

Our recommendation for pets

Introduce new sections to the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) that allows tenants to request a pet and landlords cannot decline that request unreasonably. Also, introduce a new section to the RTA specifying that tenants are responsible for the actions of their pets and continuous damage caused by a pet is deemed to be intentional damage meaning that the landlord is not limited in the damages that they can seek. Allow landlords to have a separate pet agreement and write in special clauses making it compulsory that tenants get carpets commercially cleaned and flea treated at the end of a tenancy. All tenants with dogs as pets must comply with the Dog Control Act 1996. If there is an issue that leads to a Tribunal hearing, the tenant must prove under the balance of probabilities that the dogs are not in breach of this legislation.

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