It started with a rude note slipped under her door and neighbours complaining in the hallway and it ended up with Stephanie Warzecha giving up her cat.
“I got some very rude notes and they were threatening my cat,” said Ms Warzecha.
Despite having her landlord’s permission to have pets in her apartment, the 32-year-old felt bullied by the strata committee and neighbours so she gave away her cat before eventually leaving the apartment. She now rents a converted garage studio from friends, so she can keep her dog Falkie.
“If you can find a good tenant then I don’t understand why you can’t let them have pets. It would make them a lot happier. Why would you take someone’s happiness away?” she said.
Finding an affordable, pet-friendly rental property was difficult for Ms Warzecha who is on a single, low income, and she’s not alone.
It’s a fraught topic. Most states and territories don’t explicitly address the issue of animals in tenancy legislation, giving landlords the discretion of adding ”no pets” clauses in lease agreements and requiring renters to ask permission (unless they’re guide dogs or companion animals).
Renters’ lack of rights has left an overwhelming number of tenants with little choice on where to live in many situations.
Currently, Victoria is the only jurisdiction that has introduced draft legislation allowing tenants to have pets in rentals as the default but increased recognition of the issue is creating a groundswell of support for changes in other states and territories too.
In 2016, the NSW government introduced a model bylaw that strata corporations could adopt, allowing for pets in apartments provided owners asked permission. If the building adopts the bylaw they cannot “unreasonably refuse” a request to keep the pet. Apartment buildings across NSW can still have a blanket ”no pets” rule.
But NSW Greens MP and spokeswoman for housing Jenny Leong has since pushed for greater tenancy reforms to allow all renters to have pets as the default.
“Our rental laws make it really tough for the thousands of people who own pets. Only 2 per cent of rental properties allow pets, and heartbreakingly, it means that lots of pets end up in animal shelters because renters often can’t take their pet with them when they are forced to move house,” said Ms Leong.
“Our rental laws need to change, to reflect the way we are living our lives. There are now more people renting in greater Sydney than there are people with a mortgage.”
According to University of Queensland’s Dr Jacquie Rand, who is the executive director and chief scientist of the Australian Pet Welfare Foundation (APWF), past studies show pets do less damage to properties than children and also increase health outcomes.
“What people don’t realise is the tremendous benefits of pet ownership. Pet ownership saves the Australian community $2 billion in reduced healthcare costs,” said Dr Rand.
Global pet care brand Rufus & Coco, which has partnered with APWF, recently conducted a small survey on Facebook of 652 Australians. The results showed one in five pet owners had been forced to give up their animals because it was hard to find pet-friendly accommodation.
The survey also found 42 per cent chose not to have a pet altogether because of the lack of access to pet-friendly homes.
While some homeowners believe they should be able to decide whether or not they allow pets in the homes they are renting out, the chairman of one investor industry group believed the tide was turning.
Peter Koulizos, chairman of Property Investment Professionals of Australia, said it was a no-brainer to allow tenants to have pets in rentals.
“It makes good business sense. Investors have to realise the vast majority of the population have pets.”
But Mr Koulizos stopped short of suggesting all rental properties should be pet-friendly.
“There needs to be balance. We’re happy to have tenants in our properties provided the pets are suitable to the particular location or property,” said Mr Koulizos. “How you would legislate that, I’m not sure.”
The CEO of Real Estate Institute of NSW Tim McKibbon said a prescriptive pet-friendly model “would bring about more unjust outcomes”. Instead he would prefer guidelines that required people – both landlords and tenants – to act reasonably.
“I think it is a difficult area and it is akin to the Airbnb argument and what rights people have,” said Mr McKibbon.