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Time For 'Pet-Friendly' Rental Sector

We need to discuss what the future of renting will look like for families dreaming of owning a pet, writes David Faulkner.

By: David Faulkner

1 August 2022

Want to have an emotive debate about renting? Simply raise the question of whether tenants should be allowed to have pets.

It surprised many, including myself, when the legislation around pet-friendly tenancies was left out of the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2020. According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development in their FAQ paper about the reforms, they indicated: “It is an area where there are directly opposing and strongly held views” and as such the government had yet to make a decision

While I understand the genuine concerns held by many landlords, I cannot help but feel that, under reasonable circumstances, tenants should be able to request the right to have a pet. Many good tenants across the country have that right taken away from them due to landlords’ fears regarding damages.

Not so long-ago renting was seen as transitional and temporary for most Kiwis; this is no longer the case. Many New Zealanders will likely be tenants for life. Therefore, the time has come to discuss what the future of renting will look like for families dreaming of owning a pet.

New Zealand is a pet-loving nation, clearly shown in a 2020 report on pet ownership. In NZ, 41 per cent of all households owned at least one cat, while 34 per cent of all households owned a dog.

Practical Solutions

We need to look at practical solutions to protect landlords while also being fair to tenants. To find a potential answer, we can turn to the UK Government, which has just published its long-awaited White Paper for “A fairer private rented sector”3. This paper has a familiar feel about it. It tackles the sensitive issue around “no-fault evictions” and setting minimum standards for rental properties. However, this paper went further than the NZ Government and dared to include rules around pet ownership for tenants.

‘So long as there is plenty of protection for landlords, I say it is time to let the dogs in’

The document rightly points out that domestic pets can bring joy and happiness as well as support mental and physical wellbeing. Taking this into account, the UK Government is proposing legislation that will mean landlords cannot unreasonably withhold consent when a tenant requests to have a pet. If a landlord does not consent to the request, the tenant has the right to challenge the decision. However, as a compromise, landlords will be able to require that tenants must have pet insurance, so any damage to their property is covered. To me, this is a commonsense approach.

Everyone in NZ who owns a dog must abide by the Dog Control Act. This means dogs must be registered with local authorities, controlled, and looked after. Therefore you could add a new section to the Residential Tenancies Act, ensuring that tenants are responsible for pets on the premises, ensuring that they are not threatening, antisocial, and that tenants are directly responsible for damage caused to the property by the pet. The tenant must also comply with the Dog Control Act, and failure to do so would be deemed unlawful.

Intentional Damage

A good Tenancy Tribunal case to look at regarding the responsibility of pets is Guo v Korck, commonly referred to by the tribunal. In this case the tenants had to pay $10,000 to the landlord after their old and sick pet dog continually urinated on the carpets. In the eyes of the tribunal this was intentional damage as the tenants took no steps to mitigate the damage by letting the dog roam inside. Therefore, the damage was inevitable and not accidental.

So long as there is plenty of protection for landlords, I say it is time to let the dogs in.

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