Recently we published a Canberra rental market update and the topic caused more than a few watercooler discussions here in the Perspective office. While it may come as a surprise given we’re surrounded by amazing properties for sale all day, not all of us own our own home. Several of us are actually mired in the monster that is the current rental market. And our biggest debate? Kids v.s. fur kids.
No we’re not talking about the ‘pets are not children’ war started by New York Magazine The Cut a few weeks ago, we’re talking about which type of 2 or 4-legged dependent makes it most difficult to rent a new home.
Given that approximately 58% of households have resident children/teenagers and a similar number have pets (roughly 60%), you’d think landlords would be falling over themselves to cater to this large market of potential tenants for their properties, but that doesn’t always feel like the case.
The Tenants Union ACT explicitly states that “unlawful discrimination can be on the basis of race, marital status, disability or impairment, sexual preference or religious or political beliefs.” What it doesn’t mention is that it is also unlawful to discriminate against a family with kids. But is the law a reflection of what is actually happening?
To get the whole picture we talk to a pet owner, parent, landlords and a property manager
We have a menagerie. When we were trying to rent we got so used to agents telling us that owners would never consider that many animals, even when the ad said pets considered, that we began to ring agents prior to the inspection so that we didn’t waste our time.
Luckily we got the first house we applied for. I’m fairly sure our application was approved because we had good references from our previous agent and character references for our pets.
Realistically animals can do damage. I think what’s more important is the pet owner’s attitude towards it. When we left our last place there were a couple of minor scratches on a doorframe, which we filled, sanded and repainted along with the rest of the doorframes in the house so they matched. We spent a lot of money grassing the backyard, leaving it in better condition than we got it. We take a lot of precautions to prevent damage. Our current house has cream carpets (massive mistake!) so we bought hallway runners and rugs for every room, we have a ton of scratching posts so that our cats don’t scratch anything else and we’re really big on training.
Despite the fact I know we’re responsible pet owners, I’m already worried about having to find a new rental. I can’t wait to have my own place so that I no longer need to stress about any damage that’s done.
Thankfully most property hunting has been a fairly easy process, though renting with small children has become a burden. In October this year we were facing the situation of moving with a toddler and potentially a newborn if we couldn’t find a place soon enough. Several properties we inspected had 30 to 40 people inspecting each time and competition was intense. We were unsuccessful for several properties despite being strong applicants on paper with a great rental history and references, and in some cases offering more than listed rental price. At this stage it is difficult to avoid thinking that having a toddler and 2nd baby on the way played a part in how appealing (or unappealing) we were as tenants.
Obviously the amount of damage that can be done varies wildly based on the number and age of the kids, and the parents’ level of supervision of them. The obvious issues are drawing on walls, denting walls, spills on carpet. I can only speak from my own experience of my son and friends with children, but with pretty basic supervision, most kids can’t do much more damage that a bit of patch and paint can’t fix.
We’ve had many great (and realistic) landlords in our time who understand acceptable wear and tear. Things only get difficult when you encounter the landlord who is happy to pull a rental income but would prefer it if no one actually lived there.
While applicants are theoretically protected from being passed over simply because they have children, you’re unlikely to ever actually know the real reason you were unsuccessful.
To get a wider view of investor attitudes towards tenants with pets and children, we opened the topic up to the internet. This is what we found:
Josie (owns 1 cat, no kids)
I’ve never turned down an application because of pets or kids, but I would if the application had too many kids for the size of the property. I’m more concerned about applications with low incomes that won’t be able to pay the rent, or too many people for the size of the property. I own a 1 bedroom unit in Phillip and would allow a small pet and 1 young child, but no more children or pets. I also own a 2 bedroom townhouse in Crace and would allow 2 children and 2 pets. I think it’s nice that people have companion animals. Pet owners appreciate it is harder to find properties which allow animals so when they do get approved to have their animal at the property they usually do the right thing and look after the place. People who supply a photo of their pet or pet references make it easier to accept their application.
James (no kids, no pets)
I don’t mind if they have pets or kids. I’m more concerned about my property sitting vacant for a few weeks while I look for the ‘perfect tenant’. The money I lose doing that would probably cover any money I lost for damaged property (if there was something the bond didn’t cover).
Emma (2 dogs, 1 cat, 2 kids)
I’m not keen on having university students as tenants and I don’t want more than two children in a property. I don’t know why 2 but it’s my number. I prioritise applications that do not have kids and pets, but I don’t rule them out completely. My current tenant has a small dog and I have also had children in one house, however they were teenagers. If I had to make a choice I would pick a pet over a kid every day of the week as I am an avid supporter of pets for mental health benefits. That said, I’ve never approved a cat application due to cats being inside 24/7 and their fur being next to impossible to remove. I also think that there are so many people allergic to cat hair and that is a concern for future tenants. Investors have to be realistic on the type of dynamics that their particular property typically attracts and remember that. My property is a 3 bedroom home in the suburbs with a large backyard so I am going to attract small families and people with pets.
Mike (No pets, no kids)
I’ve had pets and kids in my place. It doesn’t turn me off unless the kids (or pets) are at the inspection and acting like ratbags and won’t listen to their parents, or worse aren’t told to behave. I don’t want them in my property. My current tenants have two very cool dogs and a bird. I’ve had no problems with them, but they are responsible for any damage that might be caused. If I had to choose, I’d probably prefer pets over kids. Kids can damage things and you’re more likely to be sued if a kid hurts themselves.
The Equitable Property Manager
Independent Property Group Managing Director of Property Management, Hannah Gill, gave us a low down on the law.
It seems like the law in this matter would be a really difficult thing to enforce. I mean, how can you tell if a landlord is discriminating?
You can’t really. By nature, people have their own biases and views. What’s really important is that a leasing consultant provides only the facts when presenting an application to an owner. The owner doesn’t have to accept an application even if it is the only one, it’s their right to say ‘no’ regardless of the details of the application and we don’t necessarily know or understand the owner’s opinions or reasoning.
We do get asked some unusual, prying questions by owners from time to time, but it’s not our place to speculate or make assumptions about a prospective tenant. If an owner is being outright discriminative we can only focus on the facts and reinforce what we do know about the person based on the information they’ve provided us. We won’t buy in to discriminative conversations.
Anecdotally, quite a few families feel they’ve been turned down from properties because of their kids. Is this kind of bias common?
In our experiences bias against tenants with kids isn’t widespread. In many instances, families represent stability and often, if they have school aged children, they will be less likely to move regularly, so its peace of mind for an owner if they feel they’ve got a longer term tenant in place.
And a bias against pets?
Discrimination against pets is more common. We find owners who have pets themselves are more open to tenants with pets, but in saying that, it does create the potential for more risk. In the ACT we cannot ask for a pet bond, and many landlords’ insurance policies are yet to include cover for pet damage – some are starting to, but the amounts covered are minimal and if a pet was to cause substantial damage, we could have a difficult time trying to recover costs incurred for the owner…
It all comes back to educating the owner; some properties lend themselves to pets such as dogs, so when we list these, we let owners know it’s quite possible we’ll get applications from tenants with pets and need to understand if they’re prepared to consider them at the property. In our experience, for the most part, tenants ensure their pets are house trained and aren’t likely to cause any damage or result in noise complaints, as they know that if they were evicted as a result of these things it would be harder for them to rent a property with their pet in the future. It would be fantastic if we could ask for pet bonds in the ACT as it would ease the pressure for prospective tenants and equally, give owners peace of mind.
What can people with pets do to help their application?
If someone’s applying with pets we encourage them to chuck in a pet reference from their vet or recent neighbours, because then we can share that with the owner for their peace of mind. It’s hard situation, but just because a property doesn’t say pets considered, it’s still worth applying. If it’s a really strong application and the leasing consultant is doing their job properly, the owner will still be given it to consider unless it says strictly no pets, then obviously that’s different.
So there you have it, four very different perspectives on renting with pets and children. The biggest takeaway? Responsible tenants will work to minimise any damage done during their time, whether they’ve got pets, children or neither. And they’ll take responsibility if damage does occur.
If you’re applying for places, look for ways that you can demonstrate how well you’ll look after the property, and if you’re leasing a property? Be open minded. The best tenant may come with four paws.