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Pets and Apartments: How to make it work

By George Hadgelias

Pets and apartments: it’s a combination which often sparks fierce debate.

As those with pets will know, it can be hard to get your fluffy family member approved, for more than one reason. Pet lovers are often faced with resistance from inflexible landlords, pedantic strata committees and complaining neighbours.

And yet, among all the drama, there are some very happy, house-trained pets living peacefully in some of Australia’s great apartments.

I spoke to a few pet owners to find out what all the fuss is about.

How to: moving with pets

The good, the bad and the ugly

Bird eating spiders

Michelle confessed to renting and owning apartments in several of Melbourne’s ritziest suburbs, with two cats and a bird-eating spider the size of her hand. She never asked permission for any of them. The spider was confined to a secure tank. But it would put you in a coma given half the chance.

Cats on Prozac

Another renter, Caroline, told me about a cat who was prescribed kitty Prozac to stop it from crying all day. Unfortunately the prozac didn’t work, so Caroline tried letting the cat run around in communal areas. That didn’t work, either. Now the cat is leaving the apartment to stay somewhere else – hopefully in a happier home.

‘Cat’ napped cats

Some animals take full advantage of the communal aspect of apartment living and break the ice with other residents on behalf of their owners. Nick regaled me with tales of Figaro, a cat so loved by his neighbours, they would kidnap him and take him in during the day while Nick was at work. Figaro was also a regular visitor to the youth drop-in centre and local drug rehab.

Run rabbit run

Sarah reminisced about Chichi the rabbit, who had free run of her rented Sydney apartment. Chichi created a lot of stink – both literally, and in the form of protests from the real estate agent.

Do landlords mean ‘pet-friendly’?

When it comes to pets, renters seem to have it particularly tough, but those living within the confines of a body corporate also suffer.

Kristie, who has an exemplary 15-year rental record, says pet-friendly rental properties in Sydney are few and far between, and most are poor quality. She wanted her mum to be able visit once a month with her very well-behaved, toilet-trained dog Coco. So she put in 11 rental applications on pet-friendly properties, all of which were rejected, many in favour of renters without pets.

She was advised to put together a pet resume by one real estate agent.

After a fruitless nine-month search, she changed tactics and went to inspections for anything with an outdoor area, and asked the agent to approach the owner to see if they would consider a pet, on a visiting basis. On two occasions, the owner said yes, but the body corporate wouldn’t allow it.

Finally, after weeks of negotiation between a tenant who was sub-letting, the owner, the body corporate and the agent, she was approved for a rental property.

They’ve passed three rental inspections and the owner says the property looks better than ever.

“I wanted to do things the right way, legitimately,” Kristie says. “But I have many friends who have not, as it is just too difficult to find somewhere for them and a pet.”

Read more: Renting with pets? Landlords might be ok with that

Keeping a pet secret

It’s not advisable to go behind your landlord’s back when it comes to pets.

Melanie, who rents a two-bedroom apartment, is doing just that. She asked for permission to have a dog to help with her daughter’s mental health, but permission was declined.

Melanie decided to get the dog anyway, but goes to a lot of effort to hide the existence of the Labrador-Kelpie-cross. The dog is rarely left alone in the apartment. Instead, Melanie drops him at her parents’ house every time they go out. She’s been going along with this routine for many years now, and the landlord and agent are none the wiser.

“Having a large dog in an apartment is a lot of work. He requires exercise and any time he needs to go to the toilet we need to take him out to the street,” Melanie says.

“But having our dog in our life far outweighs the additional work and effort required on our behalf, especially the change he made to my daughter.”

Read more: Pet friendly rentals still coveted

Pets can get evicted too

The difficulties of gaining approval for a pet also extends to owners. While they’re spared from dealings with hostile landlords, they have to deal with strata committees.

John and Kate lived in their own apartment, and had put in an offer on a house before bringing a small dog to live with them.

“There were other pets in the building, but we didn’t get official approval before getting the dog because we thought we’d be gone in a month,” says John.

Everything was fine until one night the dog escaped onto the balcony while they were out and barked, keeping one neighbour awake.

“We apologised, but this neighbour lobbied the neighbours and then circumstances conspired against us, and the offer on the house fell through,” says John. “We then applied for permission, and noted there was a precedent for animals, albeit cats, and there were no bylaws against pets”.

Despite this, the committee rejected their application.

“The effect was awful,” John says. “It ruined our relationship with some neighbours and also caused friction between other neighbours who supported us. We took the decision on the chin because we were moving out.”

Read more: Top tips for renting with pets

Times are changing

Developers are catching onto the demand for pet-friendly apartments.

For instance, Ocean in Sydney’s Narrabeen is pet-friendly and was crowned Best Australian Apartment Complex at the Australian Housing Awards in 2014.

Springbank Urban Village in Townsville also markets itself as pet-friendly – and even has a strict policy to ensure the health and wellbeing of any pets in the building (so a large active dog is unlikely to be approved in a small apartment).

Springbank also has more than 0.4ha of fully secured parkland in the middle of the complex, giving animal lovers who live there somewhere to walk their pets.

Francesca Church, the development’s Onsite Property Manager, says around 30-50% of current tenants in the 202 units have pets, including cats and dogs, a turtle, a couple of parrots and even a snake.

The dos & don’ts

Strata laws govern most apartments and, when it comes to pets, they vary greatly from state to state. Unless it’s a guide dog, most require residents to seek permission first. Some are quite draconian, allowing no pets. Others, like NSW, are trying to move towards more relaxed bylaws permitting pets in apartments as a default. In September 2018, Victoria’s state parliament approved reforms to the Residential Tenancies Act that would ban landlords from including “no pets clause” in rental agreements without having to justify their decision”, from July 2020.

The golden rule for owners and tenants alike is to seek permission from anyone with any say – whether that’s just strata, or both strata and your landlord – before bringing a pet to live in an apartment.

Tips from the RSPCA for getting your pet approved:

  • introduce your pet to neighbours
  • be upfront and honest with your landlord about any accidents
  • have a plan to deal with any pet waste
  • minimise noise from your animal by regular exercise.

A friend you haven’t met yet

Finally, it’s worth noting that it’s not just pet owners who might benefit from the companionship a pet can bring. In apartments, pets have the bonus of doubling as friends to more than one family.

I once lived in an apartment where a neighbours cat would visit us nightly for milk, and meow to be let in the window at dawn for a snooze on the end of our bed. We’d just let him out to visit someone else when we were sick of having him around. He was the perfect shared pet – and we never had to pay a vet bill.

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