Tenants with pets face battle when looking for property despite legislation change

Victoria’s Residential Tenancies Act was altered two years ago to make it easier for pet owners to rent, but Second Chance Animal Rescue says tenants with dogs and cats still face an uphill battle.

Renters are still facing discrimination for having pets two years after laws were introduced banning landlords from unreasonably refusing tenants having animals.

Almost 40 per cent of dogs and cats taken in by Second Chance Animal Rescue’s emergency accommodation service in the past 12 months have been as a result of “relentless rental discrimination.”

SCAR founder and chief executive Marisa Debattista said this was despite adjustments implemented in 2020 to the state’s Residential Tenancies Act meaning a rental provider can only refuse pets by obtaining a VCAT order.

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Under the law, a renter must get written approval for their pet from their landlord, who cannot “unreasonably refuse”.

But there is no way of knowing if a renter has been discriminated against for declaring they have a pet when they apply for a property.

Ms Debattista said more needed to be done to make it easier for renters to have a pet.

It comes amid a rental crisis in regional Victoria and a much tighter vacancy rate in Melbourne than throughout the Covid-hit market of 2020 and 2021.

Melbourne’s vacancy rate was 1.9 per cent in April, according to SQM.

Ms Debattista said SCAR’s Safe House for Pets Program was established to provide short-term care for pets with owners fleeing domestic violence.

But people seeking a rental now frequently sought assistance from the program, with SCAR receiving up to 10 inquiries a day from desperate pet owners.

She said many renters were “getting knocked back from every single home and believe it’s because of their pets”.

Although landlords are not required to specify why they reject tenants, renters often found a home after omitting pets from their application, Ms Debattista said.

“We’re seeing people give away pets because they have no other choice, which is heartbreaking,” she said.

“There are so many pets who die in pounds daily, who might not if they could stay with their owners.”

Master Advocates Real Estate Services property manager Michelle Errichiello said it was important to educate property managers and rental providers about the benefits of renting to pet owners.

Ms Errichiello said tenants should be proactive and provide landlords with a “pet resume” including references from trainers, vets or past landlords.

She said some landlords had liked the “added security” of a pet bond, which had been outlawed.

Laura Basile and her partner moved into their Craigieburn rental house with greyhound Layla and cats Sassafras and Milo 18 months ago.

Ms Basile said it took about six months to secure a property.

“We got a little bit lucky, we found this house to rent because a friend of ours knew someone looking for tenants for their property,” she said.

“People tell you to lie about pets on your rental application, but we decided not to.”

Tenants Victoria lawyer Ben Cording said the law did not ban a rental provider from asking a prospective tenant renter whether they had a pet.

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Originally published as Tenants with pets face battle when looking for property despite legislation change

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