Damage, odours, noise… allowing pets in rentals is a recipe for disaster. Or is it?
With the Victorian government’s “Fair Rent” legislation tabled in Parliament, the issue of pets in rentals is in the spotlight again and likely to be the topic of conversation among PMs and their landlords right across the country, and not just in Victoria, as state/territory governments frequently like to see how a counterpart fares with new legislation before introducing similar law themselves.
Among a slew of reforms, the proposed legislation would mean landlords could stop tenants from keeping a pet only by obtaining an order through the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). Under current laws, landlords can include a no-pets clause in any rental agreement. The changes would give tenants the right to keep pets, provided they get the landlord’s written consent first. Landlords would not be allowed to unreasonably refuse a request for consent. The onus will be on the landlord to get approval from VCAT to refuse consent to a pet, once they have received the request from the renter. In the case of an assistance dog, consent cannot be refused at all.
While the proposal notes that “an outgoing tenant may be required to undertake cleaning and fumigation if there is pet-related damage to the property that goes beyond fair wear and tear”, the prospect of having the investment property “go to the dogs” is a fear among many landlords and their PMs.
But it is a risk that can be managed by ensuring the right landlord insurance is in place.
Remember: not all landlord insurance policies are created equal. There is a need to check the policy wording carefully, as pet damage claims are often excluded. Where policies do provide coverage, there are often onerous conditions on cover (such as having the pet named on the lease and the need for more inspections to be carried out etc) and exclusions, excesses and limitations that need to be understood.
However, with landlord insurance in place that specifically provides cover for pet damage, landlords and their PMs have the security of knowing that the investment property is financially protected.
Landlords can also reduce the risk of damage by making the rental more “pet-friendly”:
• Flooring: tiles or linoleum are more practical than carpet (easier to clean, do not pick up odours, fur or stains) or floorboards (less likely to scratch or stain)
• Window treatments: install blinds instead of curtains (less likely to be clawed or chewed)
• Fencing/barriers: ensure outdoor spaces are securely fenced off or feature suitable barricades such as on balconies in apartments
• Security screens with pet doors: installing doggie-doors/cat flaps can reduce the potential for damage as the pets don’t need to scratch at the doors or windows to get in/out
• Wall finishes: use easy-clean paint
• Ventilation: improve ventilation (such as exhaust fans, whirlybirds, security on windows so they can be left open etc) to reduce the risk of odours lingering
• Outdoor areas: ensure outdoor areas are pet-friendly such as avoiding planting toxic species or installing easily damaged items like water features
With investment property owners in Victoria are likely to no longer have a choice about allowing pets (and the possibility of other jurisdictions following suit), the time is right for PMs to check that their landlord clients have an insurance policy with effective pet damage cover.
It’s better to be safe than sorry!
Sharon Fox-Slater is the Managing Director of EBM RentCover, which protects more than 150,000 rental properties across Australia. She commenced a role with EBM back in 1993 and was part of the core team that helped launch one of Australia’s first landlord insurance policies into the market. She was also the first woman in Australia to complete the Advanced Diploma in Insurance Broking, and is well equipped to educate property investors and property professionals about the value of aligning with a specialist landlord insurance provider.