Queensland pet reforms leave renters at risk

Ah, pets! That most heartfelt of topics for both renters and landlords alike. For renters, reform would make it easier to feel at home, to stay healthy, and to keep beloved pets as pet of the family. For some landlords, reform would make it harder to arbitrarily exploit their privileged position to impose their prejudices on the less fortunate.

The Queensland Government has proposed changes that would bring Queensland roughly into line with Victoria and the ACT (although not exactly). In the proposed model:

  • Landlords may no longer have a blanket ‘no pets’ stance unless QCAT has verified that they have reasonable grounds;
  • Landlords may require consent for a pet, but may not unreasonably refuse consent; 
  • Landlords may require a pet bond of up to $250. 

Generally speaking, this is an improvement. It would be of most benefit to well-off renters in a secure tenancy who want to obtain a pet. With unfair evictions out the window, these renters could be fairly confident that their desire to get a pet wouldn’t end up costing them.

However, the Queensland model falls far short of the ideal model, and also falls short of the (far from ideal) model used in Victoria and the ACT. 

Pets, not petulance

How about: people who rent their homes should be able to make a home in the same way as homeowners. In Australia, that means the right to have a pet. A huge number of Australian households have pets, and pets are a part of childhood for four in five Australians.[1] It’s unfair that renters should miss out on the basis of prejudice.

What sort of monster would force a renter part with these good boys?

We support a model where renters have a positive right to have a pet in their property, and they cannot be required to disclose pets as part of the application process. In the same way that other application processes (eg job interviews) disallow questions that could facilitate discrimination, the rental application process should disallow questions that allow lessors to demonstrate prejudice. Renting includes the right to have a pet. 

This is important because anti-pet discrimination against pet owners is the most common discrimination faced by people who rent.[2] We call this discrimination because it has no evidence behind it: landlords who allow pets end up ahead financially, because increased rent covers additional wear (if any), and people tend to stay for longer, improving income security.[3]

In our suggested model, people who rent would be treated like adults who are capable of looking after a property and determining if it is suitable for their pet. They would remain liable for any negligent or willful damage, and this could be covered through the existing bond. This would allow more people to share in the physical and psychological benefits of pets.[4]

The problem with Queensland

The Queensland Government proposes a model that doesn’t prevent discrimination at the point of applying for properties. What this means is that pet owners could simply be denied a lease at a property. While existing renters would have a right to get a pet, people looking for a rental property could still face unrestricted discrimination if they were already pet owners. The prospect of this would also discourage existing renters from getting a pet, because they would rightly anticipate challenges next time they needed to move. 

This problem is common to Queensland, Victoria, and the ACT. They fail to actually protect the rights that renters are entitled to or to counter the discrimination that landlords should not be empowered to display.

But Queensland also has some QLD-specific issues.

Firstly, Queensland suggests that if the landlord denies a request for a pet, it is the tenant’s responsibility to appeal to QCAT against the refusal. In contrast, both Victoria and the ACT put the onus on the landlord to go to QCAT if they wish to refuse. The problem with the Queensland model is the risk that many tenants won’t appeal to QCAT. They may not have the time or resources, or they may fear antagonising their landlord. If the landlord has a good reason to refuse, they should be able to discuss this with the tenant and reach an agreement. But if the landlord and the tenant don’t see eye-to-eye, it’s the party with greater power and resources  the landlord  who should be responsible for going to QCAT.

Another problem with Queensland’s idea is the inclusion of pet bonds. The idea is that a landlord who allows a pet may also insist upon a pet bond of up to $250 in order to cover fumigation. The tenant would pay this when they get a pet, and it would either be used for fumigation or returned if it wasn’t needed. 

The thing is, there’s already a bond there to cover remediation issues with the property. If there is a need for fumigation, there’s no reason this couldn’t be covered through the existing bond. Or should renters have to pay an additional children bond? Or a garden bond? Or a carpets bond? A ‘pet bond’ would increase costs for renters, and it risks creating a situation where fumigation is expected even if it isn’t necessary, creating further unnecessary expenses. Basically, ‘pet bonds’ are a political hedge that governments use to try to placate landlords.

People who rent their home deserve and should expect better. Rather than kowtowing to the biases of some agents and lessors, the Queensland Government should be ensuring that people who rent can actually make a home  and that means a positive right to keep a pet. 

If you want to have your say on the Queensland government's proposal, you can head to their consultation site and complete a short survey

[1] RSPCA (2019). How many pets are there in Australia?. [online] Kb.rspca.org.au. Available at: https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/how-many-pets-are-there-in-australia/ [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].

[2] CHOICE, National Shelter and National Association of Tenant Organisations (2017). Unsettled: Life in Australia’s private rental market. [online] Sydney, p.20. Available at: https://www.choice.com.au/money/property/renting/articles/choice-rental-market-report [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].

[3]  Carlisle-Frank, P., Frank, J. and Nielsen, L. (2005). Companion animal renters and pet-friendly housing in the US. Anthrozoös, 18(1), pp.59-77; Butkovich, D. (2019). How to boost your rental return by 30 per cent (without renovating). [online] Australian Financial Review. Available at: https://www.afr.com/property/residential/how-to-boost-your-rental-return-by-30-per-cent-without-renovating-20190507-p51kqb [Accessed 4 Dec. 2019].

[4] Walsh, F. (2009). Human-Animal Bonds I: The Relational Significance of Companion Animals. Family Process, 48(4), pp.462-480; Smith, B. (2012). The 'pet effect'--health related aspects of companion animal ownership. Australian Family Physician, 41(6), pp.353-448.