Lucas Cannan: In 2016, a new era in strata laws came upon us. And obviously one of the big issues or the big changes that came in is pets. With me today is Julie Farah from Think Real Estate. Hello, Julie.
Julie Farah: Good afternoon Lucas.
Lucas: So tell us a little bit about these new laws in particular regards to pets.
Julie: In regards to pets, there is now the option of a new set of moral bylaws, where it allows the strata plan to either accept pets or accept pets with application and consent. The interesting part is, is that as part of the new model bylaws, the owners corp would have to give a reason if they declined you to have your pet. So, whereas before, they can just say no. All of this is to encourage tenants and homeowners to be able to have pets and live in multi story units and townhouses, villas, as we know Sydney is running out of ground space, there's nowhere to go but up.
Lucas: We know that, we know that. So tell us a little bit about I suppose what the Residential Tenancies Act says about pets.
Julie: Well you probably think that somewhere in the Residential Tenancies Act, it says that you aren't allowed to keep pets, funnily enough, it actually doesn't mention pets whatsoever, except for in Section 19, which is the prohibited terms, the terms that you are aren't allowed to add into a standard lease, where it makes mention of you can't put that the tenant is responsible to have the carpet steam cleaned at the end of the tenancy. It does mention pets in that section because it says if there's an exemption, if you're allowed to have kept a pet at the property, that they can have a clause that where you have to steam clean the carpet will have the property fumigated at the end of the tenancy. But that is the only reference to pets, at all in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010.
Lucas: So we know when tenants want to apply for a property, they should put the pets on their application form. What are some of the special conditions or terms that would, you know, maybe be in and around that lease if they were accepted?
Julie: First of all, we do hope that they do apply for a property and tell us that they have a pet.
Lucas: Some don't!
Julie: Some don't, but if pets are more widely accepted by agents and landlords then that's more reason for tenants to be forthwith and to let us know straight away that you know that they're interested in this property and that they have a pet. Over the years I've seen lots of applications that are handed in with a pet application with it has a photo of the pet a whole, like a little curriculum vitae of the pets.
Lucas: A bio?
Julie: So yeah, well, I guess it's so that the owner could have a read through it. And they feel maybe a bit of a connection, especially if they have pets themselves. We do have several pet friendly properties. They're lovely tenants, they're great pets. And we've had very good experiences. In saying that though, it's not a matter of just saying yes, you can have a pet and then leaving it at that. You need to make sure that the lease is very specific about what kind of pet they can have. How many of them. If that pet was something was to happen to that pet that they can't replace it without putting in a new application, and it to be approved again. You can put in, different agencies will put in different special conditions in relation to the pet. Some go into quite detailed, others might be only four or five things and very straightforward. Most of them work around the pet not causing a nuisance to anyone, you know barking and that sort of thing, not to do any damage to the property. And of course if they do, that the tenants responsible, making sure that pet waste is cleaned daily/regularly. There's even other ones where you have to supply a letter from the vet, saying that you're a responsible pet owner and that the pet is in good good health and well behaved. It just says that you must make sure that the water that the pit is provided with water and shade during the day. So it just depends on the agency. One thing that across the board relate which applies to all agencies is that is as as much as you would like to or your owner would encourage you to or even if the tenant offers you, you cannot accept a pet bond in New South Wales. Now it is legal in some other states. It is not lawful in New South Wales. So the only bond you can take for the property is that first four weeks rental bonds that we take and we lodge with the rental bond board and there's nothing above that. If you are going to accept a tenancy that has a pet that the your landlord takes out the appropriate insurance that covers damage by tenants pets. So some policies do and some policies don't. So they need to make sure that their insurance policy also covers any any accidental damage by a pet.
Lucas: From the tenants perspective. If they would apply for a pet. They would often, previous to these new strata laws, go over a couple of obstacles have they changed at all?
Julie: A couple of things have changed. So first of all, the lot owner has to consent to you having a pet then, even if the lot owner consents, we still have to put in an application to the body corporate for it, and then they review it and then they will either decline or accept a pet. Now under the new laws, depending on what model bylaws this particular strata plan has in place, they're not allowed to unreasonably withhold consent. So I couldn't just say to you "No, we're not going to allow you to have a cat because we just don't want pets in the property." We would have to give you reasons why. And that would have to be reasonable reasons. Not unreasonable.
Julie: Well, unreasonable be would just be you know, we just don't want.
Lucas: We don't like cats?
Julie: We don't like cats. Reasonable things would be things where that particular pet would be prohibited or restricted under local environmental planning goals for that Council. Or if the pet itself just really wasn't suitable for the type of property. So if we had a very small say, under 60 square meter, one bedroom unit, and they wanted to keep a large dog in there, a St. Bernard, you could reasonably argue that the premises just would not be suitable, or fair or reasonable for the pet to be kept under those circumstances. So it's not just for the good of the building, we have to consider the pet because it's not just a matter of saying yes, some reasonable care needs to be considered for how it not only is the pet suitable for the building, but is the building suitable for the pet. There is assistance animals. So for sight impaired, hearing impaired people. So to say no to an assistance animal is discrimination and is not allowed. That doesn't mean that if there is an assistance animal living in the strata plan that's causing a nuisance, that you can't take your action, you can take action and go to NCAT, and they can decide that that person would have to leave the strata plan, but that it wouldn't be against the assistance animal themselves that just would be that they're just not suitable in this particular environment where they are.
Lucas: So Julie, if I was a tenant, and I wanted to apply for a property to lease a property, and I had a pet, what would be the pet approval process?
Julie: Well, if it was a regular house, a freestanding house, then it would usually purely be up to the landlord whether or not they would consent to having a pet there, depending of course, on what type of pet it would be. And perhaps looking at the local council's environmental planning laws, whether they allow that type of a pet, some of them have restrictions on the types of pets, and some councils have restriction on the number of that type of pet that you can have at a property. Now if it were a strata title property, it would be we would be looking for the owner's consent as well as approval from the owners Corporation. So depending on what type of model bylaws they have there and there are pet friendly strata plan, then it could be a situation where, for example, we give them 14 days notice that a pet is moving into the property. Or it could be one where it requires actual application and approval by the owners corporation for that pet before they can be allowed in the property. It's I guess two factor approval there because we need the landlord's consent first, and then we need the owner's corporations consent first. And most strata managers will have a pet application form that is already set out that you can fill out to submit to the owners corporation for their consideration.
Lucas: And if I were to move in, or if I was successful, are there any special terms or conditions that you'd like to see included in a lease with a pet being included?
Julie: Well even in the standard New South Wales Fair Trading residential tenancy agreement, they have included the special condition for steam cleaning, professional cleaning of carpet and or fumigation if a pet has been there, it's really up to the agency themselves, how specific they want to be with their terms and conditions for allowing a pet to be on the premises without being over detailed and making it too hard for someone to keep a pet. But you need to have some reasonable rules, because then if you find down the track that the tenants not doing exactly as you would like and you want to pull them up on it, or we want to be able to refer back to one of these conditions to say that, you know, you're breaching this particular term, that we've made it as part of your keeping a pet. And we need you to rectify that in order for us to allow you to keep keeping the pet. The other thing is that the owners cooperation, if they do grant approval, they will have some rules that will apply as well. Typically, it's things like pets are to be carried on common property. So if you have, for instance a dog, then you need to carry it when you're on in lifts in hallways, crossing common property, that sort of thing not have a down on the ground. Some of them might have rules where if it's a dog, it must be on a leash at all times. You can't just let it sort of run along behind you or in front of you. And different rules. But each strata plan will, if they issue approval, they will issue it with rules. And then we incorporate those as well into the rules with special terms that we've included. The only thing to be mindful of really is to make sure that none of the special terms that you put in in the lease in reference to a pet, contradict and Residential Tenancies Act at all or the regulations.
Lucas: What about pet bonds?
Julie: Even in some cases, the tenant might offer, might say all you know we're willing to pay a pet bond or willing to pay a certain amount of money that they can hold so that they know the pet isn't going to do any damage that sort of thing. As considerate as that might be, in New South Wales, anything over and above the four week standard rental bond that you pay at the commencement of your lease is unlawful. So it can't, no matter how much of a convincing story either side might have for taking it, cannot accept a pet bond in any way, shape or form.
Lucas: Well, thanks Julie. Really appreciate that.