One Small Dog

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One Small Dog

DON’T LET ALL THAT TAIL wagging and cute fluffiness fool you! ‘One small dog’ is sometimes all it takes to strike fear into the hearts and minds of landlords and property owners everywhere.

WHAT ON earth do you think that one small dog is going to do – trash the house?” That was the response I gave my husband when he asked what the risk management and contingency plan was for the imminent arrival of our puppy.

For two years I had been asking my husband to let us have a dog. Finally, he gave the tick of approval and we were awaiting the arrival of one small Maltese terrier when he surprised me with his question.

Did he think that between naps our little poochie would have nothing better to do than ruthlessly plan and systematically destroy our property? I doubted that our little terrier would bring with her a reign of terror, yet his trepidation echoed that of so many landlords I have met over the years.

The general thinking is that the property will be ruined if a landlord allows pets, but evidence doesn’t support that view.

While so many landlords are quick to assume that allowing a pet into a rental will surely result in noise, fleas, odours and damage, the reality is that human occupants are the main culprits when it comes to property damage.

How many horror stories have you heard or seen of tenants trashing homes? Or worse still, using the premises as a clan lab – the damage bills for drug lab clean-ups can reach well into the tens of thousands.

All malicious damage and the majority of accidental damage to rentals is caused by people, not pets. Even most general wear and tear lies at the feet of the two-legged occupants.

Far from shying away from offering pet-friendly rentals, I believe more landlords should consider allowing pets.

We’re a nation of pet lovers and there are many benefits in sharing your life with a furry companion. It can provide comfort, alleviate loneliness, give purpose to people’s lives, increase fitness and social interaction, provide a sense of protection and simply bring joy when you get home and are greeted by a wagging tail, a chirp – or just the fleeting acknowledgement of your existence from the cat.

The RSPCA estimates that 63 per cent of households have pets, which equates to about 25 million furry, feathered or scaly family members. While around 30 per cent of adults rent, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ figures reveal that just 2.16 million renting families have pets.

Going by the statistics, there’s a good probability that a landlord will have a pet themselves, yet will deny the same to their tenants. So it would seem that most landlords don’t think their pets will damage their homes, but their tenant’s pets are another story.

Allowing pets in a rental is usually at the discretion of the owner, except in strata properties where the by-laws may prohibit pets or where denial breaches anti-discrimination laws, such as not allowing assistance dogs.

Despite most landlords being able to allow pets, the number who actually do is minimal and renters who want to have pets find their options limited. Data from REA Group revealed that ‘pets’ was the second most sought-after feature by prospective tenants in 2016, with searches continually on the increase.

The shortage of pet-friendly rentals was also highlighted by a survey by rent.com.au, which revealed 42 per cent of renters found it ‘extremely difficult’ to find a place to rent that would allow their pets and just 25 per cent of listings on the website specified ‘pets allowed’.

The gulf between people looking for pet-friendly homes and landlords offering such properties presents a great opportunity. By offering a property as pet-friendly, the potential tenant pool immediately increases. Great demand and wider appeal has the flow-on effect of very short vacancy periods and tenants who stay longer.

People with pets understand that securing a rental is more difficult when they have their furry family in tow, so they are often willing to comply with a few extra conditions and even pay more.

And far from being problem tenants, those with pets often prove to be the best.

In speaking with the agents we work with, we have it on good authority that people with pets in rentals are sometimes better tenants. They tend to look after the home better, keep it cleaner and even go above and beyond to provide a safe and happy home for their pets; that often means paying for improvements to the property out of their own pockets, which benefits the landlord.

For landlords and property managers concerned allowing pets will result in damage, here are a few practical tips.

First, consider the type of property and what kind of pets may be suitable. If it’s a small apartment a huge, boisterous dog may be a recipe for trouble, but a little dog, cat, bird or other small animal would probably be suitable. Landlords concerned about the interior of a larger home – for example, carpets getting stained or polished wooden floors being scratched – could specify that the pet must be kept outside.

Just as you would do a thorough reference check on the human occupant, you should do the same for the prospective four-legged tenant – so speak with former landlords and property managers about the owner and their pet.

Next, protect the landlord’s financial interests. Unless you are in WA you can’t ask for a pet bond, but you can draw up an addendum to the rental agreement that details how the tenant and their pet will respect the property, what to do if there is a problem with a pet, what happens if the pet damages the property and so on. You may also be able to require the home to be professionally cleaned or fumigated after the tenant and fluffy housemate move out.

For an added level of comfort, I recommend that landlords take out comprehensive and specialist insurance cover. Although most tenants take responsibility for their pets and would make good on any damage, landlords can further safeguard their financial interests with insurance – the right insurance.

It’s important to make sure that the policy purchased provides cover for pet damage; so many landlord covers exclude this type of claim, have onerous conditions attached to being able to make a claim, such as requiring the pet to be named on the lease, or only offer minimal financial cover.

With a bit of extra due diligence, consideration and protection, landlords could tap into a huge potential rental pool by offering their property as pet-friendly and reap the rewards.

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About The Author
Sharon Fox-Slater
Sharon Fox-Slater
Sharon Fox-Slater is the Executive General Manager of EBM’s RentCover, which insures 120,000 investment properties around Australia and creates covers specifically for the property industry. Sharon was also the first woman to become a Fellow of the National Insurance Brokers Association. For more information, visit rentcover.com.au.