Law change eases way for tenants to own pets

Changes to the Residential Tenancies Act will likely lead to more pets in rented homes, the Otago Property Investors Association says.

Housing Minister Chris Bishop and Regulation Minister David Seymour yesterday announced changes to the Act, including introducing a pet bond, making tenants liable for pet-induced damage, and requiring landlords’ consent for pets.

Otago Property Investors Association president Kathryn Seque-Roche said she expected the changes to affect not only those with pets looking for rentals, but also those already in rental situations who wanted to get pets.

"It would definitely give landlords more reassurance and I believe more landlords would allow pets in properties, especially dogs and cats.

"At the moment, the main reason they’re not allowed is because there’s actually no protection.

"It puts the onus back on the owners of the pets.

"If they believe their cat, dog, fish, turtle is the best pet in the world, then that is basically just putting their money where their mouth is, isn’t it?"

A landlord had rung her for advice recently after allowing one dog on a property and "suddenly there were six".

But the complaints the association most commonly received were scratch marks on doors or door frames and chewed up or scratched up carpet.

In some cases, landlords would end up replacing the carpet, and the underlay, and in some cases seal the wooden floor, because of cat urine.

"I myself have had to pull up carpet and underlay and get the floor sealed to get rid of a smell before from cats that were meant to be ‘outdoor cats’ but were not."

In a statement yesterday, Mr Bishop said helping people find a pet-friendly rental home was part of the Government’s plan to create a well-functioning rental property market "which itself is part of the wider plan to solve New Zealand’s housing crisis".

About 64% of New Zealand households were estimated to include at least one pet and 59% of people who did not have a pet wanted to get one, he said.

"Pets are important members of many Kiwi families.

"Anyone who has ever tried to find a pet-friendly rental property will know how hard it is, so we’re going to make it easier", he said.

Mr Seymour said the policy would help tenants who were now "locked out of rental markets" because landlords were not willing to take a risk on tenants with pets.

"There are tenants out there who would be more than happy to pay a little extra in order to live in their preferred home with their very good boy", he said.

"More landlords would be willing to allow pets if they could protect themselves from some of the risks."

He also said the changes would be important help for victims of domestic abuse trying to move on with their lives.

"Often, people stay in relationships to look after pets and become stuck.

"Helping these people find rentals that are accepting of pets will allow them to move on safely and have a brighter future."

The joint statement said the legislation changes, to be part of an Amendment Bill introduced next month, delivered on a commitment in the National-ACT coalition agreement, intended to make it less difficult for tenants to have pets in rental properties.

The pet bond, set at a maximum of two weeks’ rent, would be in addition to the existing bond.

Tenants would be liable for pet-related damage beyond normal wear and tear.

And landlords could approve pets or withhold approval on reasonable grounds, the statement said.

Yesterday, Pet Refuge, a charity that provides temporary shelter for the pets of people escaping abuse, welcomed the announcement.

"While Pet Refuge always want to reunite pets with their owners, finding rental accommodation that will allow them is so hard that there have been times where we’ve had to find the pet a new loving forever home because it has been impossible for their family to find a place they can all live in safety together". chief executive and founder Julie Chapman said.

Otago Daily Times readers gave mixed reviews of the changes on social media yesterday.

"Honestly, I think kids can cause more damage to a house". one said.

"Carpets don’t cost two weeks’ rent". another said.

Changes to the legislation

—  Introducing a pet bond (set at a maximum of two weeks’ rent) that can be charged in addition to the existing bond,

—  Making tenants liable for all pet damage to properties beyond fair wear and tear. This means a tenant is fully liable for any accidental or careless damage caused by pets, as well as any intentional damage,

—  Requiring that tenants may only have a pet or pets with the consent of the landlord, who can withhold consent on reasonable grounds.