Is it time to allow tenants to have pets in rental properties?

There is a new victim in the apparent rental crisis across New Zealand. Pango, the pet dog of a Porirua tenant is in trouble. The tenant’s landlord is selling the rental property so this tenant has to find a new property to rent that will allow pets. Unfortunately for Pango, this is not proving easy. Pango is not alone.

In a recent article that made the news, it was reported that a number of tenants are being forced to give up their beloved pets in an attempt to secure a rental property. The apparent shortage of rental stock is making it more difficult for tenants who own a pet to find suitable accommodation. Many landlords may feel that they are spoilt for choice when they rent out a property. If there are multiple people applying for a property, it is solely dependent on the goodwill of the landlord as to whether they will accept a tenant who has a dog. This is pretty unfair. If I own my own home, then who is to stop me from having a pooch as part of the family but if you rent your home you may not be so lucky.

Is it time to change our rules so that tenants can own pets without the necessary consent of the landlord?

In our opinion, the law should change. Surprisingly the issue of tenants being allowed pets was left out of the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2020 even though it was probably the most debated change when the Government did its first round of consultations with stakeholder groups before the Act was amended. Their reasoning for its omission was because it caused so much debate and there was such an even split, more time was needed to come up with a solution.

We think tenants should be allowed pets but there should be rules in place to protect the landlord’s investment and the wider community.

To me, it makes sense to allow a tenant the right to have a dog, but the landlord should be able to place certain terms into the Tenancy Agreement to give them added protection. For example, having in the agreement that the tenant agrees to allow the landlord to organise professional carpet cleaning and flea control at the end of the tenancy at the tenant’s expense. The landlord should be able to state how many pets the tenants can have. The landlord should also be able to state in the Tenancy Agreement that the tenants agree to abide by the Dog Control Act 1996 which sets out statutory regulations in relation to the ownership and control of dogs. Failing to do so would mean that the dog would have to be removed from the property or if the tenant fails to give up the dog, then the tenancy could be terminated.

If the tenant is renting in a body corporate, then body corporate rules will override the Residential Tenancies Act if the rules state that occupants cannot have pets.

Pets play such an important part in the emotional wellbeing of individuals as well as the families who own them. Every dog owner I have spoken with has stated that their dog is part of their family. This leads us onto the next point.

If a dog is truly a member of the family, are we breaching the Human Rights Act by not allowing a tenant to rent a property due to the fact that they have a dog? Section 12 of the Residential Tenancies Act states that discrimination is an unlawful act. Maximum exemplary damages can be as high as $6,500.

Then take a look at section 21 of the Human Rights Act. This outlines what the 13 grounds of discrimination are. Here it states that you cannot discriminate on family status. You could argue, even though a dog is not human, the family clearly are and therefore a family has been discriminated against due to the fact that they own a dog.

In my opinion, the argument against pets has never been about the damage that they do, more about neglect by the tenants. In the renowned Tenancy Tribunal case of Guo v Kork, the Tenancy Tribunal rightfully rules in favour of the landlord after a sick dog continued to urinate and vomit on the relatively new carpets, meaning that at the end of the tenancy, the landlord was forced to replace the carpets. The tenants argued that this was accidental damage and therefore, they should not be liable.

In the end, common sense prevailed and the adjudicator ruled in favour of the landlord awarding $10,000 for the replacement of the carpets.

Landlords can insure themselves against damages caused by pets whilst tenants can be held liable for the full damage caused by their pets if they fail to control them. Therefore we believe that the time has come to show some heart and change the Residential Tenancies Act to allow tenants to have pets in their homes.

So, to all of you landlords out there who own a dog. Ask yourself, would you give up your dog for your home and not be resentful?

Time to let the dogs in.

Harrison Vaughan

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