Renting With Pets

15 May 2019 Mariann B

Renting With Pets

Big Issue vendor Mariann B has a pet peeve: real estate agents who don’t understand the importance – and legality – of pets.

I have a long history of harbouring animals – both mine and, often, other people’s. There has been the odd dog or two, but mostly it is cats. My latest guest, Mitzi, belongs to a professor who left her with me for two long years to work at a university overseas. She made me appreciate my permanent cat, Alfie, who I previously misjudged as neurotic.

Alfie is just a misguided rescue cat. Mitzi comes from a privileged background and was put out by having to slum it with me. Her owner recently returned to claim her, saving me from a nervous breakdown.

Mitzi is a tortoiseshell bad-ass, but funny with it. Every time I tried to engage her, she turned her back to me and stared at the wall. It was so demoralising to be snubbed by a cat. Having said that, I believe it still behoves us to give animals a roof over their head if we can.

When it comes to renting a flat or a house and you want to take your beloved pets with you, real estate agents are the enemy.

New laws passed in Victoria mean that, as of July 2020, residential property owners are only able to refuse the right of a tenant to have a pet by order of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Similar reforms are being made in Queensland. Basically everywhere else, you have to get express permission from your landlord.

But even with these changes, real estate agents can still have difficulties accepting you, let alone your four-legged companion – so they blow you off. They do this in an underhanded way so you cannot prove why you have been rejected. Agents get away with this because it’s a sellers’ market and they call the shots.

When you arrive at the cattle call known as an “inspection”, you find everyone else is more qualified than you, richer, more evolved, more everything. I started developing trust issues after an ad in real estate speak: Charming, cosy one-bedroom flat, very close to public transport, etc…

Translation: Mouse hole, too small for one person, in need of renovating with train running right under the bedroom windows late into the night…I made the mistake of mentioning my pets and every time I tried to make eye contact with the managing agent thereafter, he gave me the death stare. Obviously, I was a low-life, hell-bent on turning the property into Noah’s Ark and maybe even bringing in an extra goat or two.

My former illegal cats, Pudding, Sugarfoot, Felix and Cupcake, were a delight – worth the risk of temporary homelessness, which was a real possibility given the “no pets” policy of most real estate agents years ago. But I do believe my hospitality will merit brownie points. When I die, there will be a chorus of meows singing my praises, earning me a “get out of hell free” card.

Attending inspections is a harrowing experience. Agents believe that your raison d’être is to pay an exorbitant rent. You see the same faces, looking more frazzled and desperate each time. You bond over the unfairness of it all; I’ve made a few friends on the house hunt.

At first, you and the agent are on an even footing. He doesn’t tell you about your Neanderthal prospective neighbour, who will dump his rubbish into your almost-full wheelie bin instead of his empty one, and you don’t tell him about your elderly Siamese with incontinence issues.

You get 10 minutes to see the flat. You want to turn on the shower tap to test the water pressure but back off because the agent looks exceptionally grumpy and you don’t want to antagonise him.

Here’s my tip: don’t admit you are bringing a pet until they tell you that you have passed the final selection.

The fun begins when you come in to sign the lease. Not only are you given a draconian 10-page lease in your name, you are issued with a separate one for your pet. It sounds like the rap sheet of a hardened criminal, beginning with “no loitering in the communal areas”, followed by a list of beastly behaviours that might be committed by your cat or dog. If your dog could read, he would be barking mad over being stifled by such a vile document. He need not put his paw mark on the lease, but you have to sign it so you can be billed for any damage.

The fun is not yet over. Shortly after moving in, there is a “routine inspection”. Are they expecting the floor boards to curl up already? The managing agent fixes a time, but he doesn’t ring the buzzer like a regular human being; he sneaks in with another tenant and snoops outside your door just as you holler at your cat, “Alfie, get the hell out of the kitchen sink!”

Pet owners, even when they become residents, continue to be intimidated. Some people are emotional about other people’s choice of pets. When I lived in Sydney, I took my tortoise, Winston, for an airing. The middle-aged woman next door looked affronted, pointing at Winston and screaming: “Why that?” The safest thing to choose if you want to rent is something conventional and quiet, like a goldfish.
Luke, a neighbour of mine, got into trouble recently over his contraband: a three-legged bulldog called Battler. He smuggled the dog in during the middle of the night despite having signed a “no pets” clause in the lease.

Some animal-hating morons in the block dobbed him in. Don’t people understand you need a pet to get through life, you can’t depend on your partner to lick your face each morning and give you unconditional love?

So poor Luke went all catatonic, staring into space. In a show of solidarity, a few of us threw him an eviction party to lift his morale. Sergio, in unit four, offered to lend Luke a suit for his next inspection and I promised to write his application. Then we dragged him off for some free legal advice and discovered he had nothing to worry about. Battler is a model tenant incapable of doing any damage; he even only barks occasionally and discreetly. A spokesman for Consumer Affairs Victoria said a landlord or owner cannot serve a notice for breach of duty simply over the breaking of a “no pets” clause in the tenancy agreement if there has been no damage or nuisance.

Closer to home, my lease is about to expire, and I have decided to stay put, even if the landlord raises the rent. I can’t bring myself to face another inspection.

» Mariann B is Melbourne vendor and regular contributor to The Big Issue.

» This article was first published in Ed#587.