Four-legged friends causing mayhem in the rental market!

In the biggest shake-up to the Victorian Residential Tenancies Act in more than two decades, a raft of new laws came into effect in March 2021. Covering everything from allowing renters to make minor modifications to the rental property to limiting rent increases to just once a year, the 132 amendments aim to “make renting fairer” for Victoria’s 1.5 million tenants.

Among the most contentious of these government reforms is the new pet clause, which makes it easier for renters to have four-legged friends in the home.

Australians have one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world – almost 29 million of them, according to the latest Animal Medicines Australia report – so it’s no surprise to us that this change is one our clients ask about most frequently.

So, what does the new pet law mean for renters and rental providers?

What are the new laws?

Under the new law, renters must fill out a Consumer Affairs Victoria Pet Request Form for every pet they wish to keep on the premises (other than assistance dogs, which are already permitted under the Equal Opportunity Act).

Rental providers (ie landlords) cannot “unreasonably refuse consent”, and have 14 days to respond to the request. If they don’t respond, the renter has the automatic right to keep the pet.

To deny the application, a rental provider must now go to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), where a tribunal member will make their determination based on considerations like the type of pet, the nature of the property and other relevant laws such as council regulations.

If VCAT makes an order excluding the pet from the premises, the renter has 14 days to comply or they could face a 28-day Notice to Vacate.

Since the reforms came into effect, VCAT has received close to 350 applications relating to pets. Only about 20 have proceeded to a final determination – and only one determination has been in favour of the rental provider.

Renee Whitehouse, Director of Property Management at The Property Mentors, said wait times for a pet request hearing were extensive.

“Currently VCAT receive an average of 10 urgent repair hearings per day, so they’re put through first,” she said.

“Pet requests are considered non-urgent VCAT matters. With the impact of COVID, and the new legislation coming in to effect on March 29, the backlog for anything non-urgent is pushed to the bottom of the VCAT hearing pile.”

How can a property manager help?

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Managing the tenancy process is complex and time-consuming – from handling stringent tenancy checks and conditions reports, to staying on top of property maintenance and handling disputes and issues.

Ms Whitehouse said engaging an experienced property manager should be a key part of your property investment plan.

“Finding an experienced property manager, who has empathy and can build rapport with all clients, is worth its weight in gold, as this can help to resolve issues early without the need for escalation to a VCAT hearing,” she said.

Ms Whitehouse said navigating the new pet law clearly demonstrated the benefit of having a good property manager in your corner.

“The majority of pet requests received are accepted. We then ask our renters to sign a ‘Pet Clause’, which basically states they are responsible for any damage the pet causes to be rectified at their own expense, and flea/pest spray and fumigation to be completed as part of the process when the renter vacates the premises,” she said.

“I had renters move into a brand-new, carpeted apartment last year with a dog. When they vacated, the smell left behind was overwhelming.”

It took several professional cleans, and significant amount of time spent in negotiation with the renters, to eradicate the smell.

“As a worst-case scenario, if the smell couldn’t be removed, it would no doubt have ended up in a convoluted and time consuming VCAT hearing,” she said.

Ms Whitehouse warned price point should not be your primary consideration when selecting a property manager.

“You really do get what you pay for. If a property manager misses something because they are too busy or inexperienced, such as a safety or maintenance issue, it will cost you significantly more trying to fix the problem. Conversely, a good property manager will virtually pay for themselves over time by ensuring that rent returns are always in line with the market.”

How can The Property Mentors help?

Our dedicated team of property experts will ensure you stay on top of your rights and responsibilities. As active property investors ourselves, we have a unique advantage over other property management services. We understand first-hand that the difference between a good and a bad property manager can also mean the difference between a hassle-free and easy to achieve income stream versus poor service, the wrong tenants, maintenance problems and unforeseen issues.

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