Property Management Expert Debbie Palmer recounts her experiences, as well as the pros and cons of leasing to tenants with pets.
When I first started my career in property management, almost 20 years ago, I was very naive about the pros and cons of accepting pets as co-habitants to the property. It wasn’t until I had a couple of years’ experience with pets in properties that I started to form an opinion on the issue.
Scratched and damaged internal and external doors, destroyed gardens, urine odours in carpets that had penetrated into the underlay, faeces stains on carpets, run-lines in the lawn along fence lines, constant complaints from neighbours about dogs barking all hours of the day and night, other neighbour complaints about safety concerns for their small children around the neighbour’s dog/s, window coverings shredded, flea infestations and temporary fences that damaged the property – just a few of the challenges that I started to encounter.
I was very diligent and hard to please with the application and interview process and held very high standards for tenant selection. However, I discovered, even after the most thorough reference checking, I was still exposed to a number of these issues during or at the end of the tenancy.
The pets you accept may come with great references, but they are unpredictable – not to mention the validity of the reference. How can you be sure that the rental reference is relating to their current pet?
You may be thinking that I am anti-pets and not an animal lover, which is not the case. I have had many pets that have been exceptional and caused no damage or harm to the property.
But there came a time in my property management career where I wanted to reduce my risk of potential hiccups during the tenancy. I became particular about the type of property I wanted to manage, the type of landlord I wanted to deal with, the type of tenant and whether they had pets.
It was then that I decided to make the decision of not accepting pets except under very rare circumstances. I was managing over 400 properties, and I can honestly say that we had less than five per cent of our properties with pets.
THE PROS AND CONS OF ACCEPTING PETS
- Increased number of applications
- Ability to achieve a higher rent.
- Refer to my paragraph two
IS THE RISK REALLY WORTH IT?
Ultimately it is the landlord’s decision as to whether they accept pets into a property, but do you want the additional challenges that pets bring to your day-to-day property management?
If you do choose to accept pets, the following points will help you reduce your exposure to property damage and liability issues.
The standard Tenancy Agreement does not cover much about pets, except for listing whether they are approved, how many and what type; for example, dog, cat, bird, and so on. If you are going to accept pets I would suggest introducing a Pet Agreement that clearly defines the rights and obligations of the tenant with regard to a pet being approved at the property.
It was some years ago now that I was made aware of a case involving a tenant with a pit bull terrier. The dog had been let out of the property and sadly had injured a neighbour’s child. When lawyers became involved they implicated the agent as a third party for allowing the tenants to have a dangerous dog in a property that had inadequate fencing.
This story clearly highlights that when accepting pets there is possibly more to your responsibility as an agent than just ensuring that the property is not damaged.
Your Pet Agreement should focus on and cover some of the following areas:
- Number of pets approved.
- Type of pet.
- Description of pet – be descriptive! List the breed, colour, age and approximate weight, etc. This will assist in ensuring that the pet that you approved (based on references) is the pet that is still at the property.
- A statement that the tenants may not have additional pets or replace approved pets without the written permission of the agent. For example, you may state in the Tenancy Agreement that you approved one dog, a poodle. However, you just write ‘Pets approved: YES – one dog’. The poodle passes and the family decides to welcome a new Rottweiler to the family, which is, in fact, still one approved dog.
- Are the pets micro-chipped and registered with the council?
- A statement highlighting that the tenant is responsible for all damage caused by the pet, which could include the replacement of underlay, replacement of lawns and gardens, etc.
- A statement highlighting that the tenant is responsible for pest control of fleas at the end of the tenancy, which must be undertaken after the property has been completely vacated. There is no point in the tenant providing a receipt for the pest control three days before they vacated, as the fleas could come back while the pet is still at the property.
- A statement highlighting that the tenant takes full responsibility for the pet and agrees to indemnify your office in the event of damage or injury to a person.
- A statement highlighting that it is the tenant’s responsibility to ensure that the property is adequately secured by way of fencing, not to allow dogs outside of the property unleashed, birds not to be allowed outside of the cage, etc.
- Most importantly, ensure the agreement is signed and dated by all tenanted parties.
Be upfront and very clear about whether a pet is accepted in the property from the outset. Include standard wording in the property description such as: No pet allowed / Pet approval on application / Pets approved – and once again be descriptive – 1 dog or cat (less than 5kg).
GIVING REFERENCES FOR PETS
Our office was recently contacted by a member requesting that a letter be drafted specifically for a pet reference. My advice on this matter was simple. Do not state an opinion on how the property was cared for. You only need to include one additional line to the standard tenant reference – the tenant had one dog!
A pet reference is no different to a tenant reference. You only need to state the facts. Tenant references can be referred to by other agents and landlords for years to come. The tenant’s pet/s may change, which can change the outcome. Don’t put yourself in the position of becoming a third party to any type of claim, no matter how rare you may feel that would be.
One of the most difficult areas to prove can often be the sneaky tenant who does not disclose they have a pet. In primary school one of the classics for not having your homework done was due to the dog eating it. Likewise tenants can have some great stories about pets that don’t belong to them. I remember countless inspections where I would knock on the door to be greeted by the tenant; the door would open and then a cat would come running in from outside. Yes, you guessed it; the tenant’s response was always, “Oh! Miffy, go home! Sorry, that’s the neighbour’s friendly cat.”
Even if you state that no pets are approved, it will often not eliminate the hiccups that pets can cause.
I had a nosey landlord that would constantly drive past his property. One day I received a call from him stating that he saw a dog at the property, which obviously he had not approved. The owner insisted that the dog be removed from the property. I followed up the matter with a letter and breach notice to be told by the tenants that they had no dog. The owner then instructed our office to conduct an inspection of the property. Surprise, surprise! When we inspected the property there was no sign of a dog. The owner then insisted that we interview the neighbours, who also stated that there was no dog. Several days later, the owner visited our office with video footage of the animal. This situation was more about the owner’s dislike of the tenant rather than the actual dog. The tenants were becoming annoyed at their invasion of privacy and quiet enjoyment, and ultimately the matter ended up in the Tribunal Courts. In the end the matter was settled, but I am sure that any property manager who has been in the industry long enough has encountered a situation similar to this.
When conducting routine inspections, always be on the lookout for evidence of non-approved pets: the kitty-litter tray, food bowls, pet toys, and so on. It is then up to you to introduce your negotiating and communication skills to rectify the situation and ensure that all parties are happy.