Brand EditorialEPMEPM: Best Practice & Legislation

Going to the dogs: Sharon Fox-Slater

As new legislation in Victoria is set to see pets in rentals become the norm instead of the exception, Sharon Fox-Slater says the fear of damage might not be justified.

With the Victorian Government tabling its ‘Fair Rent’ Bill in Parliament, the issue of pets in rentals is in the spotlight again. Amongst the 130 reforms, the proposed new legislation provides protections for pet owners, with residential rental providers only able to refuse a tenant having a pet if they get an order from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. And while some owners and REIV are up in arms about the legislation – claiming it erodes a landlord’s rights in the property – landlords and agents may not have too much to fear about allowing pets. If the property is covered by the right landlord insurance!

A year after RentCover introduced cover for pet damage, just one claim had been made – and that was more to do with an irresponsible owner than a bad pet.

After vacating the property owing unpaid rent, it was discovered that the tenant’s dog (which was noted on the lease agreement) had caused damage inside the home. Damaged carpet and scratched skirting boards in the bedroom, where (it is suspected) the dog was locked while the owner was out, resulted in a $5,500 pet damage claim.

With just one claim being lodged in 12 months, the statistic goes some way to allay fears that allowing pets automatically equates to damage. In fact, there are a number of financial benefits for landlords and their agents allowing pets in rentals including:

  • Increased prospective tenant pool (with more applicants, the landlord/agent can be very selective and choose the best tenants)
  • Competitive advantage over those that have ‘no pets’ policies (especially in inner city locations where there are fewer pet-friendly properties on offer) – pet-friendly rentals can often receive up to twice as many enquiries
  • Properties are highly sought-after and rent quickly (reducing time and costs of advertising)
  • Short vacancy periods due to high demand (limiting pauses in cash flow)
  • Higher rents can be realised due to supply (lack of)  and (high) demand (tenants with pets are often willing to pay more for a home that fits their needs)
  • Longer lease terms (tenants tend to stay longer due to the difficulty in finding another pet-friendly property)
  • Lower turnover (tenants staying put equates to steady rental income for the landlord and time savings for agents in having to find new tenants)
  • Better upkeep (tenants who feel ‘at home’ are more likely to look after the property and may be willing to improve the home at their own expense, with landlord permission)
  • Safety and security (the presence of a dog at a property reduces the chances of it being burgled)
  • Tenant well-being (there are international studies that show pet owners are physically and mentally healthier, which can equate to less chance of rent fault and other issues)

Despite there being numerous reasons why going ‘pet friendly’ can be a financial bonus for landlords, which flows to agents, many will remain cautious. This is where having the security of knowing that a landlord’s insurance policy covers damage caused by domestic pets is invaluable.

But a word of warning: not all landlord insurance policies are created equal. Landlords and their agents need to check the policy wording carefully, as pet damage claims are excluded in many policies. Where policies do provide coverage, there are often onerous conditions on cover (such as having the pet named on the lease and the need for more inspections to be carried out etc.) and exclusions, excesses and limitations that need to be understood.

By ensuring that the insurance policy allows for damage claims caused by domestic pets, landlords and agents can be prepared for opening up the property to tenants with pets, whether it becomes a requirement or simply a choice to capitalise on a growing market of pet lovers wanting to share their rental accommodation with a fur baby!

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Sharon Fox-Slater

Sharon Fox-Slater is the Executive General Manager of EBM’s RentCover, which insures 120,000 investment properties around Australia and creates covers specifically for the property industry. Sharon was also the first woman to become a Fellow of the National Insurance Brokers Association. For more information, visit rentcover.com.au.

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