A new report is touting the benefits of pet ownership, while highlighting some of the difficulties facing tenants across Australia who do desire a pet.
Research from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) has highlighted that even with international studies proving the social, health and economic of having a pet for both individuals and communities, pet ownership policies remain restrictive across many housing sectors in Australia.
The AHURI has examined the relationships between pet ownership and housing systems. It found that while more than 60 per cent of Australian households have a pet, a significant number have had to give up a loved animal at some point due to their housing circumstances.
In fact, an estimated 15 to 25 per cent of pet relinquishments are related to rental mobility/access and pet restrictions.
Research underpinning the report was undertaken by researchers from Swinburne University of Technology, Western Sydney University, University of South Australia, Curtin University, Adelaide University and The University of Sydney.
The researchers have acknowledged that the right of households to keep pets varies markedly depending on the housing sector and tenure within which they live.
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, who are typically living in strata title units, according to the AHURI.
“For example, strata title regulations across the country empower housing complexes that use strata title rules to determine whether pets are permitted,” explained Professor Wendy Stone from Swinburne University of Technology.
In general, it’s tenants in the private rental market who face the strongest restrictions, with New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia legislation giving landlords the right to freely determine whether a property will consider renters with pets or not.
These results were in contrast to previous international evidence examined for the study, which found that there are widespread social, health and economic benefits of having a pet for both individuals and communities, as well as better health outcomes in both adults and children.
Further, the AHURI has emphasised no proven correlation between pet ownership and property damage.
“While landlords frequently cite concerns about property damage for refusing pets, there is little evidence to support this,” Professor Stone said.
“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.”
Why pet-inclusivity is important
Apart from investment benefits, pet-inclusive housing policies can also directly address 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,” the report explained.
It also argued that progressive housing policies could enable people living with pets in unsafe and precarious living situations such as domestic violence or homelessness to better transition to safer housing.
According to the report, while tenants in public housing usually have very good rights to have a pet, people living in community housing, in crisis accommodation or in head-leasing arrangements can face restrictions similar to those experienced by private rental tenants.
With most homelessness support services not allowing pets in their accommodation, many pet lovers are at risk of experiencing homelessness and will ultimately “fall through the cracks of the housing system”.
A way forward
Despite pet ownership restrictions holding up in most parts of the country to this day, the AHURI has touted innovative models as paving a pet-friendly way forward.
A Victorian pilot program in 2018, called Launch Housing, allowed people to bring their pets into their crisis accommodation services.
Apart from addressing the homelessness crisis, this program saw pets entering the program given a vet check by Lort Smith Animal Hospital, who also fund any health treatment the animals require, Professor Stone noted.
She has argued: “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.”
In addition, a recent ruling in Victoria did determine that “pets cannot be unilaterally banned”.
Now, residential tenancy laws in Victoria and the ACT require that landlords “do not unreasonably refuse tenants” requesting to keep a companion animal.