Every day RSPCA Tasmania receives a call from someone who is homeless, or is about to be homeless, with their pet.
- Tasmania has historically low rental vacancies and only one in eight landlords allows pets
- The Tenants Union says years of lobbying for law reform has fallen on deaf ears
- The RSPCA says Tasmania is not recognizing that animal welfare is about human health as well
The situation has been bad for several years, but with the cost of rent rising, and vacancy rates at a record low, more animals are also becoming victims of the state’s housing crisis.
“We are seeing a huge increase in people under housing stress — people who are between homes or can’t get a rental home with their pets,” RSPCA Tasmania CEO Jan Davis said.
“People are finding it almost impossible to secure a rental at the best of times, but it’s certainly impossible with animals.”
Hobart resident Chris Bailey is one of those people.
His lease will end in two weeks, and when that happens the 34-year-old and his nine-year-old cat Scrambleshanks will be homeless.
“It’s tough trying to find something that is suitable, affordable, and close to where I work — and on top of that I have a cat,” Mr Bailey said.
Mr Bailey has casual employment and is currently building a camper trailer capable of being towed behind his bike.
He’s also looking at the possibility of buying a houseboat to give him and his cat alternative accommodation options.
“They (pets) bring color to the world, I think, and I couldn’t imagine a situation where I wasn’t around her,” he said.
Only one in eight rentals that are currently advertised in the Greater Hobart area will consider people with pets, and tenants need landlord approval before moving in if they want to keep an animal.
“You need permission to keep any type of pet, whether it’s a cat, a goldfish, or a hermit crab,” Tenants Union of Tasmania solicitor Alexander Bomford said.
“The landlord can refuse it without having to give any additional reason, except if it’s a guide dog or service animal.”
Tasmanian laws lagging behind
The Tasmanian government has been asked by several groups to bring the 1997 Residential Tenancy Act in line with other states such as Victoria and Queensland, and increase renters’ right to have pets.
“In Queensland and Victoria, landlords can only refuse a request to have a pet if it’s reasonable … for example, if the strata title doesn’t allow it or it’s a horse in a one-bedroom apartment,” Mr Bomford said.
“Pets are our family and we expect them to be treated as our family members, and our regulatory environment in Tasmania hasn’t kept up with that.”
“Tasmania hasn’t recognized that animal welfare isn’t just about the animals, it’s about the humans and these are human health and human issues as well as animal ones,” Ms Davis said.
“In other states they’ve moved a lot more quickly to recognize that.
“In Queensland and Victoria and the ACT, the default position in rental legislation is you can have a pet unless the rental tribunal has a specific case that says you can’t for whatever reason.”
The worsening rental crisis has reignited calls to allow pets, with charities such as the RSPCA and the Dogs Home of Tasmania seeing an increase in the number of pets being surrendered.
“Around 15 per cent of dogs that are surrendered to us are solely because their owner has not able to find a rental property,” Dogs Home of Tasmania CEO Michael Sertori said.
“Luckily we are here to find a forever home for that dog, but it’s still unfair and ridiculous in this modern day and age.”
Despite repeated calls for law reform, Consumer Affairs Minister Elise Archer said the government supported the current provisions of the Residential Tenancy Act, which require the landlord’s approval to have pets in rental properties.
“We are, however, open to the idea of pet bonds in principle as these would potentially give landlords more confidence regarding pets in their properties,” she said.
Temporary shelter an option
There are several charities which provide support to anyone going through rental stress with their pet in Tasmania or is struggling to afford vet bills and food due to cost-of-living pressures.
RSPCA Tasmania and Dogs Home of Tasmania can provide temporary accommodation for animals if the pet owner needs more time to find a suitable home.
“We have worked with a number of people where we’ve taken the animal into care until they are settled, and then passed their pet back to them,” Ms Davis said.
Dogs Home canine behavior trainer Michelle Jones urged people to seek help.
“Reach out to your local charities and organisations,” she said.
“There are a lot of us who want to help you and help your dog stay in your home.”