Landlords continue to discriminate against pet owners. Often it becomes “the dog or the home”. Should bias be illegal?
I MET a woman recently who’d just moved to Sydney.
She’s a single mum with a dog, currently staying with friends while looking for a place to rent. I knew the drill as she started to tell her story. Her tired face said it all. I remember moving back to Sydney a few years ago and the nightmare I had trying to rent with two cats. I was always banished to the back of the queue.
“Friends said I should lie,” she admitted. “But he’s a sheep dog. How can I hide him? It has come down to a home or the dog,” she said, almost in tears.
I wonder why such discrimination is still possible, especially since landlords can take bonds to cover pet damage. Surely animals don’t do any more damage than young kids (or teenagers for that matter, after their drunken parties).
Not that property owners are exempt from onerous pet regulations, either. My ex-husband couldn’t even babysit our cats in his own townhouse a while back, when I went travelling, due to body corporate by-laws.
The matter is becoming a social issue, with many Australians condemned to lonely and unhealthy lives because of bans on pets, according to University of Tasmania sociologist Adrian Franklin, author of Animals and Modern Cultures. Professor Franklin recently completed a project on loneliness in Australia. He says evidence shows that animals are highly beneficial to health, especially for our ageing population. For instance, a Mayo Clinic study found that seniors with pets have 21 per cent fewer doctor visits.
Rules for pets in strata buildings and rental properties vary from state to state. But University of Western Sydney researcher Emma Power is calling for an easing of by-laws and improvement of pet-friendly designs for apartments; while tenants’ groups keep challenging rental agreements.
I think the situation should go further. It should be unlawful for anyone to discriminate against pet owners unless there is solid evidence that a pet is particularly noisy or is from an aggressive breed. Let’s not force renters and apartment-dwellers to choose between a home or the family pet. It’s too sad.
Es has made some very intelligent contributions to this discussion. The issue of “discrimination” in general has let the genii out of the bottle in all aspects of life. Too much bad and antisocial behaviour is tolerated now under the caveat of “discrimination’. I think it am abominable piece of legislation that has created widespread problems. The owner should always, repeat, always have the right of veto. As for Ruth not hearing pets barking in Manhatten – that’s not the same as saying pets DON’T bark in Manhatten apartments. Ruth just doesn’t hear them because, like so many pet fetishists, she has selective hearing. I bet she’d hear my Beethoven if it was turned up!!
I’m in NSW.
The other thing I wanted to mention is that there are so many great tenants with outstanding references without pets, they’ll always get in first. It basic risk assessment..
Es I was told that I would be paying an extra pet bond when I was trying to rent in Melbourne. Which state are you in?
I am an animal lover and also a Property Manager and I disagree. I think owners should have the opportunity to say no to pets. We have several tenants that have kept pets without permission and have had issues with fleas, noise and dogs getting out and terrorising other tenants in blocks. We have also had tenants with pets who have been fantastic! Owners should have the right to choose. And by the way, you may want to check your facts – you legally CANNOT take an additional amount for a pet bond. It’s illegal. Perhaps lobby state government to allow agents to request an additional 4 weeks on top of the normal bond and owners may well be more inclined to allow pets.
As I said Lucy, and will say again, I didn’t notice dog’s barking and have lived in Manhattan twice. I didn’t say they didn’t bark but that I was never aware of it nor disturbed by it and I’m pretty noise sensitive. If anyone else has had experiences living in New York then please share. Meanwhile I would like to hear about your experiences living in Manhattan.
Ruth said that dogs didn’t bark in Manhatten apartments! Oh, puhleeze!! That has to have come from Mars, that comment.
When other people own dwellings which others must pay to rent, owners have the right of veto for pets or anything else. This is common law. But it shows the extent of entitlement that people say “I won’t give up my pets, but you must let me rent your home/flat etc.”. Notice the modal verbs in that thinking: ‘you must’, and ‘I won’t”. A bit of congnitive dissonance there…!!
I was at Zurich Bahnhof yesterday and a woman’s dog came over a sniffed my bag. I snapped “get away” and the look of indignation on that owner’s face beggers belief. She was absolutely horrified that, though she had her animal in a public place invading the private space of another person, she was ENTITLED to have her animal do that!! This is pervasive in Europe. I believe most animal ownership is because humans have fetishized pet ownership. Read Evelyn Waugh’s “The Loved One”, written 40 years ago, to get a sense of what I’m on about. This is symptomatic of the decadent, entitled society that we live in now.
Love me love my dog, gimme gimme gimme, make way for me me me. I’m so over it!! Get a life pet fetishists: repeat after me, ‘US/THEM”.
I, like many other animal lovers and/or pet owners, do not assume that everyone should be as mad about my pets as I am. I also believe, in general, people who walk their pet/s do not do it for the sole reason that they can deficate somewhere other than in their own back yard. My husband and I have owned German Shepherds for over 30 years. If I lived next door or in the vicinity of someone with any animal breed that barks, meows, moos, quacks, crows or even slithers 24/7 I would be anxious too. Unfortunately human beings living next door or in the vicinity (and even far far away) can leave us feeling anxious, fearful, uncomfortable and disempowered. As a loving and responsible animal owner, I too would never choose to give up my animals. As a loving and responsible parent, I too would never choose to do anything other than love, care, nurture and provide as responsibily as is possible for my children, and thankfully, was never in a position where I was forced to give up my children. There are many things in life for which I am thankful for … one is the joy I feel when my dog rushes to greet me, the happiness my dog brings not only to my husband and I but to our family and friends, the peace of mind to have company when you feel lonely, and for their loyalty and forgiving nature. These atrributes are because of the love and basic needs provided by a responsible pet owner. I never cease to be amazed at the vitriolic response people feel they must share and/or impart on those of us who do not claim to have all the answers to life. Having been a lessee (with dogs) who leaves the accommodation cleaner than when we went in, and a landlord who has allowed pets whose owners have been both responsible and tenants without pets irresponsible, it is not difficult to see that humans (pet lovers/owners or not) should be descriminated against. And as far as generalising that it is typical of animal owners being in denial or that there are growing armies of people tired of the relativism of pet ownership – I am constantly reminded, having heard stories or witnessed for myself the way people behave, or the beliefs I have in humanity, I don’t doubt or have any illusions as to which parallel universe I apparently inhabit.
Actually dogs don’t make noise in Manhattan apartments. I lived there on several occasions, always in apartment blocks, once for a year. Who knows why this is, or whether the walls are built thicker. But I am noise phobic, can hear a dog barking ten miles away. and yet NEVER once had an issue in Manhattan where everyone has apartment pets.
Yes, it will be interesting to watch how the boomers handle this. But what a sad sad situation. I would never give up my animals – and the struggle to find places to take them when I was trying to rent was exhausting and disheartening.
It is a tragedy for both pets and owners that animals are surrendered when people have no choice but to enter non-pet friendly accommodation. Particularly when it is scientifically proven that pet ownership is helpful for people’s mental health. and that it gives lonely or depressed people a reason to get up in the morning. People who accuse animal lovers of being unable to get on with humans are just being silly. The opposite is far more likely ie. that people who put compulsive cleaning [probably with worrying chemicals] ahead of pets are far more likely to be dubious of having people visit/untidy their homes than those with pets. It would seem, anyway, that there will be a natural evolution of some apartment blocks which are known to be pet friendly and others which do not allow animals. As baby boomers age as well it is hard to see that they will give up their lifelong rights in a hurry, including their choice to share their lives with animals.
Unfortunately, animal lovers assume that everyone should be as mad about their pets as they are. We are not all animal lovers. In my rural community, where I walk to work along the main street, I perceive that people only take their dogs, especially bigger breeds, for a walk so that they won’t poo in their own back yards! I’ve lived next door to 24/7 barking German Shepherds, and the anxiety this causes is huge.
And I find it impossible to believe that pets in Manhattan apartments don’t do much barking! That’s rich, that statement!! And typical of in-denial animal owners who, at the end of the day, don’t care a damn what others think. There are growing armies of people tired of the relativism of pet ownership – kids make noise, therefore it’s OK for pets to do so. What kind of parallel universe do you people inhabit.
The issue of barking animals is a big social problem. I agree with the contributor who said it is nearly impossible getting Councils to act. If you speak to the owner they’ll say, “oh, but he’s so friendly, he won’t bite” and other trite responsibility-free offerings. Whilst there are selfish human beings on the planet who only care about themselves and their pets, without any regard whatsoever for the impact upon others, this situation will remain. I agree that people need to go out and find human beings for company – it’s surely tragic and pathetic that people increasingly lean on their pets for their emotional consolation. Poor things (pets, that is).
I live in Vienna, Austria – 5 months on MOnday – and I don’t return to Australia till Xmas. I’m absolutely APPALLED by the pet situation in Vienna and elsewhere in Europe. Vienna is called the “dog-shit capital of Europe” and justifiably. The streets smell of excrement and urine and you cannot go anywhere without dog excrement all around the place. Not only that, dogs go everywhere – shops, chemists, churches, hotels, busess, trains and trams, airports, apartment buildings, supermarkets. It’s outrageous from a public health point of view and most of the owners couldn’t care a damn about who others respond, so caught up in their own sense of entitlement are they. My husband and I have been looking for good apartments to buy in Sydney as we want to return to the city after Vienna but these new developments are all “pet friendly”, and we find this unacceptable. A dog was yapping on a balcony just above one we inspected in Killara. We said to the agent, “see you later”. I think the whole issue of pet ownership is pitiful – that people cannot find human companionship – and how it interfers with the lives of non-pet residents. But, I’m hoping the pendulum will swing again.
I understand how people feel when forced to give up a pet they love to find a home to rent. I have had to rehome my beloved cat since moving from my own home.
I had to rent out my home due to work relocation. I allowed the tennant a dog with strict provisos that he clean and maintain inside and out.
After many reassuring conversations about how great my house was going, I visited to check 18 months later, and found the house in a disgraceful state.
There was dog hair everywhere, it stank, and my garage was full of faeces in various states of putrification.
I think if you invest in a home you have the right to determine what you allow to live in it.
It is the lazy owners who should be discriminated against. But why trust a stranger when you can easily just ban all pets? Sad but true.
We have a pet friendly body coportate at present) for our 70+ units, the only restiction is on the size of the pet. Under 1m tall, so no Irish Wolfhounds but crocadiles presumably OK. The problem we have is that one owner (we have quite a few dogs) leaves her dog for days (or nights if she gets lucky) and it howls non-stop. Holidays, long weekends when she goes away are the worst. It disturbs the entire building, not only the noise, but the obvious distress of the poor animal, the residents have to listen to. It can even be heard on Chapel St outside the building, and if you know the area you will appreciate how loud it is.
She of course never hears it in distress and may well think others are bastards to complain.
It is this irresponsibe, cruel and selfish action that fuels moves for body coporates to act to ban pets.
I work in the only “open admission” animal shelter in WA-we never say “no” to any cat or kitten brought into us. I can confirm , this is a huge issue for us, especially in the so called “boom” state where it is impossible for ordinary people to get affordable pet friendly rental accomodation. It is truely heart breaking for both the owner and us when an owner has to surrender their much loved companion animal of 12 or 13 years, knowing we are going to kill it the very same day. Sorry but there is no “market” demand for old cats! We need to change the tenancy act here to allow for larger bonds to take care of any so called pet damage. I hope we see the day when discrimination like against pet owners is no longer practised. I hope we can look back and look at it with a smile and say how wrong it was, in the same way we cannot discriminate against people with children, or the colour of peoples skin when it comes to renting properties.
Until that day, we will provide the box of tissues to the distraught owner, fight back our own tears, as we take their much loved old pet who has done no harm, into the euthansia room Another day in an animal welfare shelter.
I have just moved from a very busy, full household (with a dog) in Brisbane to my own, very quiet flat in Sydney where I don’t really know anyone.
I get out, go to classes, spend time with my workmates and some distant family I have here, but I still go home to an empty house. Slowly, I am making friends and settling, but again, I still go home to an empty house.
I miss the companionship of having a dog. In terms of getting lonely, having a dog to come home to would definitely solve a lot of my problems. Depression wise, I know that for me having someone who is completely dependant on me to feed, walk, and clean would stop me from going that way.
But of course, finding a pet friendly apartment in Sydney so that I can actually is pretty close to impossible. When it’s a new dog, it’s even harder than having one already, because I can’t get a reference letter from the vet, I can’t say that it’s had training (though it will), I can’t show a reference letter from previous landlords. All I can do is promise training (and I have worked with and trained animals professionally before), promise cleanliness and offer a higher bond.
Jennifer, there needs to be more landlords like you! (Are you in Sydney?)
I posted a previous statement to the effect that I have little sympathy for pet owners but I have far more sympathy for their imprisoned pets. I think Ruth would do a far better social service in arguing that pet owners should start to take responsibility for noisy and/or messy pets in place of what seems far too often to be a sort of blind sentimentality toward the creaturely world.
Sarah, just because you have no empathy for pets doesn’t mean that you should deny others the companionship of them. Most pet owners are far more responsible tenants than groups of young adults. As a landlord, I have rented out to both and I prefer pet owners because they are more considerate. As animals have sensitive hearing, you won’t get noisy tenants as pet owners.
As a landlord, I welcome any `responsible’ tenant with one or two pets (dogs/cats) into my South Yarra unit, in preference to groups of young, partying adults, who disrupt the whole neighbourhood, and who wreck my white walls with their cigarette smoke.
The pets would have to be desexed, kept exclusively indoors, toilet trained, and (dogs) be on a lease at all times when on common property. These guidelines are to ensure that the animals don’t pose a nuisance to their neighbours.
I can’t understand the anti-pet sentiment of Sydney landlords when you consider the large cockroach population in their rental properties.
I totally agree that the laws against pet ownership are ridiculous, Ruth. I would much prefer living next to pet owners, of which I am one, than people who are rude, loud and noisy.
Generally speaking, pet owners are far more careful about their property, even if they are renting, than people without pets as they fear reprisals, including loss of bond or even being evicted.
Time to change those laws and now!
Sarah, I don’t understand your point?
How come I am allowed to spray for ants and cockroaches and set rat traps, but if someone labels their animal a pet it is discrimination not to lease a residence to them? I don’t want any animals in my house.
I worked at an animal shelter for many years and it was tragic to see how many pets were surrendered by owners who were moving to accomodation where pets were not allowed. Whilst some of the owners could have perhaps made other choices, others could not avoid their situation and this resulted in much grief for them and stress for the pets, some of whom could not be rehomed.
On the other side of the coin, I understand that the RSPCA is receiving an increasing number of unwanted pets who have significant behavioural problems. It is suggested that this is often related to their living conditions – confinement and boredom in the case of dogs. Not all accomodation is suitable for animals, but surely rental properties with backyards should not discriminate against pet owners.
Cats and dogs have shared their lives with humans for more than 10,000 years and they give us love, companionship, mental and physical health benefits as well as teaching children empathy. They are an important part of our social lives and responsibly cared for, do not impinge on others.
The lack of pet-friendly accommodation is a major issue – our shelter in Newtown in Sydney’s inner west constantly takes in cats who are the victims of pet-unfriendly policies. The cats are devastated and their people are heartbroken.
Landlords are entitled to protect their investment and should be allowed to charge a pet bond but also need to realise that the risk of damage from a kitty who sleeps 18 hours a day is low compared with people who like to party!
Thank you Ruth for raising this important topic. The Cat Protection Society of NSW has just produced an issues paper on the subject and we can also give people advice on how to prepare a pet resume so that they can demonstrate their pet is a good tenant.
Another great source of information is Pets in the City from PIAS. With proper care and attention, cats and dogs can and do enjoy happy, healthy lives in apartments.
Both education and law reform are needed in this area, for the sake of our four-legged friends and for the sake of our wellbeing.
Are people really “condemned to lonely and unhealthy lives” without domestic pets? They could try meeting people, perhaps through exercising with them.
Encouraging people to keep dogs and cats in inner city dwellings is unwise and selfish Ruth, think a bit deeper next time. Animals have no choice in the relationship. It’s not a two way, dynamic, healthy relationship but a self serving one.
If you do have a dog or cat, pick up your animals poo and put it in the bin when you’re taking them out for exercise – it’s very common to see dog poo in public parks, and it’s very gross. Please don’t let them roam off a lead especially at night – the damage to wildlife by domestic animals is easy to turn a blind eye to when they’re also your best friend.
Animal welfare and rspsa are having more problems of receiving unwanted animals due to people moving homes it is difficult these days so how do you propose to change the laws of the landlords attitude I can understand the council are now only accept upto 4 cats and or 2 dogs in a house and the flats only 2 cats and or 1 dog to be registered and neutered.
In South Australia/Australia it is the same here. Difficult to have pets to rent home most landlord do have their own pets and do not trust tennants even tho I have photos to prove it and previous records and phone numbers of previous landlords still they refused to have. better have goldfish in a fishbowl. I feel very disappointed and it is too hard to find a place to share with it is bit like finding jobs just as much as finding another place nothing is like a home to stay put. Nothing like the good old days. I like to see the same with nursey homes to have pets there too
I have been on both sides. We moved interstate with a cat and a dog and needed to rent while we found a home to buy. I got a written reference from our vet, the boarding kennels and dog obedience instructor and added them to our personal references and we got the first home we applied for. Now we have just inherited a rental property and the tenant has dogs and cats that are not house trained. It will cost way more than her bond to clean it, replace carpets and curtains. At $7000+ to make it habitable I would be reluctant to rent it to a pet owner now.
Though I like animals I have had so many bad experiences from neighbours’ yapping dogs both in Perth and Adelaide that I find myself out of sympathy with your views. I don’t see why my sleep should be destroyed night after night by someone’s pet. And to get an authority to act is often almost impossible, requiring the sort of detailed evidence more usual for a courtroom.
Thank you Ruth! I moved here from the U.S. (originally from Canada) with my fur family of cat and dog, and thought quarantine was bad enough, but finding a place to rent was heart-breaking! Nowhere else in the world is it made this difficult. The people who need their pets the most are those living solo (aka singles), yet the attitude is so unjust against pets. Even where there is a “pet friendly” policy, there are often restrictions against any normal sized dog. It is such a fallacy to think that small dogs pose fewer risks and problems. Whereas the truth is, small dogs are the yappiest and snappiest. The bigger the dog — the more likely to be gentle and quiet, not to mention friendlier (with very few exceptions, and more to do with the type of owner). I find myself to be a rare breed — being a single woman renting alone with my labrador. Am blessed by the love of dog (my blog) — consider what “dog” spells backwards? … Dog is love. And goodness knows we all need to spread more of that around! along with the good natured joy that comes so naturally to dogs (and cats). So, thanks again for raising awareness! I wish more people would get it! Here’s to the purr and the wag! Lydia
Well I agree about there should be pets allowed in rentals (subject to conditions) but I disagree with the health comment, people who have pets are not more healthy because of them ….it the other way around , healthy people have the health to look after them whereas for those in poor health, pets are a burden.
I lived in Manhattan, almost everyone there keeps their dogs in the tiny apartments. Often the dogs are bigger than the apartment space. Yet there isn’t a lot of barking surprisingly. But yes I agree with your point. I don’t believe any animal should be lock in all day, and I always feel sorry for animals that are forced into domestic bondage.
Benjamin, if someone threatens your property or your loved ones including beloved pets, it is possible to take out an AVO. Federal and State laws pertaining to acts of violence or abusive language or threats supercede body corporate and council laws. Get legal advice, and immediately seek advice from the police. They will pop in and tell your neighbour about the real law. Bullying is not acceptable, and living in fear is ridiculous.
I cover that in Saturday’s column in The Australian. I think owners of dangerous breeds, or aggressive pets should be subjected to some screening, yes absolutely. I wouldn’t want my child being around a dog that behaved in a suspicious or aggressive manner.
What about dangerous breeds?
Good point. There are always other issues to consider. But that doesn’t address the issue – should it be illegal to discriminate in general – rather than just looking at some landlords who have to have special exemptions.
Yes that’s my darling Muki who is my best friend!
I have my own ground floor unit in a strata building and I was told by the nasty elderly neighbour next door that if my cat ever went out into the common ground he would poison her. I live in fear, and yet he has body corporate strata by-laws on his side. A few times she got out and I was happy for her, because I wanted her to enjoy the fresh air and her freedom, but I have to hang around the courtyard praying that I find her before the neighbour does. This is outrageous isn’t it?
I am a landlord and I allow pets. I take a bond if there is any damage, and I make sure there is a commitment to steam clean, and do a thorough clean of the floors because I don’t like the doggy smell that is left if pet owners don’t wash their dogs enough.But if those things are adhered to then I can’t see why one would discriminate more against a pet owner, than a parent, or a sickly person, or teenagers who throw parties.
Ruth thank you so much for this article. I adopt dogs from pounds, and believe me, there are so many animals and pets left due to the idiotic rental system in this country. They’re not animals who are unloved, rather animals who are not allowed to be loved. Everyone’s heart get’s broken, specially the kids. Please please some compassion and common sense.
Guys I live in a strata building, and there is someone with a dog upstairs whose dog barks day and night and someone who lives next door with another yappy canine. I feel sorry for the dogs because they shouldn’t be couped up all day like that. But most of all I feel sorry for myself because I get sleep deprived and pretty edgy after working at home for a few days. There must be a compromise
I guess it boils down to the government finding a uniform law. At the moment different body corporates can pass by-laws even against property owners who live in their strata. And rental leases are subject to councils in different states and its very messy. We either outlaw all discrimination or none. I can’t understand the hypocrisy.
I can’t believe discrimination against pet owners is still legal. I guess animals and animal lovers come low down on the pecking order of respect, which was confirmed on 4 Corners the other night. Dogs who are given up so renters can rent, end up in the pound. Do any money grabbing landlords give a damn?
That was pretty stupid of you Meredith. Sorry but I own a property and if I rented it out when I went away I would hate to think the person I rented it to was a liar. I am a pet lover, but I also have cat allergie even the smallest bit of fur can make me very ill, and if you lived in my house with a cat, I could probably react even if you steam cleaned. Maybe it is impossible for tenants but I wouldn’t be bragging about deceiving people who may have a good reason for not wanting your pets.
And to comment on the issue at hand, i moved to Melbourne a few years ago, and I had a cat and a dog. It was virtually impossible to get any rental anyway let alone with two pets. Yes, in the end I lied. There wasn’t another way. Thankfully the people in the building were mostly renters and had sympathy on me. No one dobbed me in. Do I feel guilty? No way. Like you said, kids do more damage and I got the place steam cleaned when I left. In fascist regimes people have to lie.
Hi Ruth is that your cat? You use that photo a lot in your blogs so I reckon it must be an animal who is dear to you.