The RSPCA has welcomed the Victorian government’s decision to include protections for pet owners in its sweeping reforms to tenancy laws.
The Andrews Labor government promised on Sunday to shrink upfront bond payments, introduce long-term leases, outlaw rent bidding and ‘no specified reason’ notices to vacate, and restrict rent hikes to no more than once a year.
The draft legislation, which is the culmination of last year’s review of the state’s Residential Tenancies Act, would also prevent landlords from applying blanket pet bans. Renters would still need their landlord’s written permission to keep a pet, but the law would prevent ‘unreasonable refusal’.
RSPCA Victoria CEO Dr Liz Walker said the move would allow more Victorians to enjoy the benefits of pet ownership.
“Research has shown that owning a pet can have a number of physical health benefits, including increased cardiovascular health, increased physical activity and fewer visits to the doctor – as well as improving social connectedness.”
Currently, in Victoria, New South Wales and many other states, landlords can legally ban renters from keeping pets, without needing a valid reason.
People shouldn't have to give away their best mate to another family just so they can stay living in their house.
So we're doing this: pic.twitter.com/F3TYb978L6
— Daniel Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) October 8, 2017
Dr Walker said approximately one-in-six dogs and cats surrendered to the RSPCA in Victoria were given up because their owners had moved house and were not allowed to bring their pets.
“We have long held concerns about existing rules that allow landlords to automatically include a ‘no pets’ clause in rental agreements.
“RSPCA Victoria deals daily with animal owners who have no choice but to surrender their animals to us, either to get into the rental market or when moving to a new rental property.
“These decisions cause significant stress and grief, both to the owner, and to the pet who has been surrendered.”
Other changes promised by the Victorian government were:
- a new Commissioner for Residential Tenancies
- a blacklist for renters to check for unscrupulous landlords and agents
- bonds will be a maximum of one month’s rent for any property less where rent is less than $760 a week
- protections to make it easier for renters to make minor modifications to the property, such as install an air conditioner or hang a picture frame
- faster reimbursements (seven days instead of 14 days) for tenants who pay for urgent repairs
- faster release of bonds at the end of a tenancy.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the reforms would correct an “imbalance” of power between landlords and renters.
“The landlord and the agent have all the power and given how tight the market is, the tenant can’t speak out and has no voice,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Sunday.
A national survey conducted earlier this year found that more than a third of Australians rent. The majority (51 per cent) were on fixed-term one year leases. Just under half (48 per cent) of renters had a personal income of less than $35,000 a year.
Victorian opposition leader Matthew Guy said there were “legitimate concerns” that mum and dad property investors would be “well and truly disadvantaged” by some of the new rules.
“Yet again, this Premier has picked a winner and a loser. He can never do anything by consensus. It’s always picking a winner and a loser,” he told reporters on Sunday.
Mr Guy also warned the plan could have the unintended consequence of constraining the supply of homes for rent, by deterring Victorians from becoming landlords.
“There’s been limited consultation. Sure, some of those changes are worthwhile and are necessary and we need to make sure that we can people into the rental market. But if we make it so difficult for someone to rent out property, then there’ll be fewer homes on the market to rent out, and those very people you want to help – a renter – will be worse off.”