A guide for agents on increasing pet rights for renters

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With pandemic pet ownership at an all-time high, residential tenancy laws in Queensland are set to change on 1 October 2022 making it easier for rental property tenants to keep a pet. Changes that will, almost certainly, bring a flood of new pet applications to property managers.

This guide, with particular focus on the impact of the new legislation to body corporate, is to assist our clients to manage the process, minimising disputes and any negative impact on landlords, property managers, and the body corporate committee.

What does the legislation mean for landlords?

Under the new legislation coming into effect on October 1, 2022:

  • Landlords will be unable to apply a blanket ban on pets within their rental property
  • There will be a specific RTA form for a tenant to apply to the property owner to keep a pet
  • Landlords must consider all applications on their individual merits
  • Landlords must give the tenant an answer within 14 days. If they don’t respond, the law considers the pet has been approved
  • Applications can only be refused based on a specific list of prescribed grounds.

Grounds for a landlord’s refusal of a pet application

New section 184E of the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008 sets out that (our emphasis):

The following are the only grounds for a lessor to refuse a tenant’s request for approval to keep a stated pet at the premises:

  1. Keeping the pet would exceed a reasonable number of animals being kept at the premises
  2. The premises are unsuitable for keeping the pet because of a lack of appropriate fencing, open space or another thing necessary to humanely accommodate the pet
  3. Keeping the pet is likely to cause damage to the premises or inclusions that could not practicably be repaired for a cost that is less than the amount of the rental bond for the premises
  4. Keeping the pet would pose an unacceptable risk to the health and safety of a person, including, for example, because the pet is venomous
  5. Keeping the pet would contravene a law
  6. Keeping the pet would contravene a body corporate by-law or park rule applying to the premises
  7. The tenant has not agreed to the reasonable conditions proposed by the lessor for approval to keep the pet
  8. The animal stated in the request is not a pet

How body corporate by-laws overrule a tenant’s right to keep a pet

While body corporate blanket-bans on pets are not common, most have some type of restriction or regulation on the type and number of pets a resident can have at the scheme. These restrictions often include:

  • A requirement to obtain committee approval for each pet
  • A requirement to register the pet with the on-site manager or caretaker
  • The number of pets
  • The type of pet
  • Conditions about how the pet can live at the site – where it can and can’t go

These body corporate by-laws overrule any approval granted by a landlord if the two are conflicting.

Example 1. If a tenant applies and receives approval by the lot owner to keep a second pet and the body corporate by-laws only allow residents to keep 1 pet, the tenant would be in breach.

Example 2. If the body corporate by-laws require committee approval for residents to keep a pet and a tenant only receives approval by the landlord, the tenant is in breach and must remove the pet until body corporate approval is received.

A guide for on-site managers – letting agent for one or more body corporate schemes

  1. Ensure you know the pet by-law for your own body corporate.
  2. Ensure you have a current copy of the community management statement (CMS) including all current by-laws, to provide to each tenant as required by law.
  3. If your current by-law restricts pets or requires a committee approval for each pet application you should communicate this clearly to your tenants.
  4. Proactively communicate this ‘by-law reminder’ to your tenants, even if they have not yet applied for a pet. This will assist in managing expectations on future applications.
  5. Proactively inform your landlords of the body corporate by-law and how you plan to handle pet applications if you receive them.
  6. If any of your by-laws requires committee approval for pets, have the application forms handy. BCsystems’ clients can use our online form: Pet application – BCsystems | Strata Managers and Consultants.
  7. Understand the decision time frames. The landlord must provide an answer to the tenant within 14 days, but the tenant may also need to wait up to 6 weeks to receive a decision from the body corporate committee.

A guide for general rental property managers

  1. Conduct a file audit to ensure you have a current copy of the community management statement (CMS), including all current by-laws, for every building you have a rental property under management.
  2. Proactively inform your landlords on how you plan to handle pet applications, reminding them there may also be a body corporate processes that involves the lot owner on behalf of their tenant (depending on the individual by-laws).
  3. If the by-law requires committee approval for pets, have the application forms handy. BCsystems’ clients can use our online form: Pet application – BCsystems | Strata Managers and Consultants.
  4. Understand and advise tenants about the decision time frames. The landlord must provide an answer within 14 days to the tenant, however, the body corporate committee has, under the law, up to 6 weeks to consider applications for pets.

 Finding the correct by-laws

These are found in the community management statement (CMS) which provides the body corporate name, a list of all lot and plan numbers in the body corporate, a list of the lot entitlements, the by-laws, and any exclusive use areas.

  • If your document ONLY has by-laws in it, or if it has “Schedule 3 By-laws” or “Schedule 4 By-laws” as a heading on the first page, it is most likely not the correct set of by-laws for that individual building. Further investigation is required.
  • If you do not have a copy of the by-laws or if you are unsure whether your copy is current or correct, you can:
    1. Ask the rental property owner to provide a copy to you
    2. Ask the body corporate manager to supply a copy
    3. Order a copy of a verified CMS from a land titles supplier

Risks to on-site managers

A landlord allows a pet in their lot, subject to body corporate by-laws. If the correct by-law application process is not followed, the rental agent involved may face complaints from the owner, body corporate committee, and the tenant. Here are two scenarios demonstrating a good and a bad outcome resulting from a pet application.

Scenario 1 – Good Outcome

The body corporate for 123 Smith Street CTS 12345 has a typical by-law stating each resident must obtain committee approval before bringing a pet into the building.

A lot owner, Ms White (investor owner) has previously not allowed pets in her rental unit due to concerns about damage to the carpet.

Ms White receives an application from her tenant to get one dog. Ms White consults with her rental property manager, and approves the application subject to:

  • Obtaining body corporate approval
  • Conditions about maintenance, damage and carpet cleaning

The tenant, after receiving this approval from Ms White, makes an application to the body corporate to keep one dog within the lot.

The body corporate committee considers the application and approves it, subject to:

  • Conditions about noise, nuisance, and use the dog cannot go into the swimming pool area

After the tenant has received approval from BOTH the owner and the body corporate, the tenant buys a dog and is a happy pet owner.

Scenario 2 – Bad outcome

The body corporate for 123 Smith Street CTS 12345 has a typical by-law stating each resident must obtain committee approval before bringing a pet into the building.

A lot owner, Ms Stern (investor owner) has previously not allowed pets in her rental unit due to concerns about damage to the carpet.

Under the new tenancy laws Ms Stern receives an application from her tenant to get one dog. Ms Stern is not aware of the body corporate by-laws that require all pets to be approved by the committee, and after discussing the application with her rental property manager, approves the application subject to conditions about damage and carpet cleaning.

The tenant, after receiving Ms Stern’s approval letter, purchases a dog costing $5,000 and brings it into the unit.

Shortly after, the body corporate committee receives complaints about a puppy barking in the lot. It notifies Ms Stern about a dog residing in her lot without approval, and that any approval she has issued to her tenant is inconsistent with an existing body corporate by-law and subsequently void.

Ms Stern’s, through her property manager, informs the tenant the pet approval is now void, and that neither the tenant nor Ms Stern had reviewed the body corporate by-laws prior to making, or approving, the application.

Ms Stern instructs the tenant to:

  • remove the dog temporarily and leave it with a friend
  • apply for body corporate committee approval to keep the pet, which may take up to 6 weeks

The tenant is very unhappy about this and decides to pursue costs from Ms Stern relating to the purchase price of the dog, the cost of temporary accommodation, and early termination of tenancy if the body corporate does not approve the pet.

Inconsistency in the decision timeframe

One of the most significant parts of the new tenancy legislation is that the landlord must give the tenant an answer within 14 days after receiving the application. If the landlord does not respond within 14 days, or if the landlord says no but that decision deviates from the approved list of reasons to refuse a pet, then the pet application is deemed to have been approved.

Silence from the owner = pet application is approved

We anticipate problems will arise within body corporate schemes when:

  • Investor owners who previously did not allow pets at all, may not know their body corporate’s by-laws around pets (as previously they didn’t need to)
  • If a by-law requires that pets must receive committee approval, under the body corporate legislation the committee has at least 6 weeks to consider the application, creating an unavoidable conflict between the 14-day owner approval timeframe, and the 6-week approval timeframe for the body corporate.

Under the law, an owner’s approval, or deemed approval if they do not respond within 14 days, is void if the body corporate by-laws are breached by the approval.

The challenge is, regardless of the breach, most tenants will bring the pet into the property immediately after receiving approval from the owner. The body corporate will then be left in a position where:

  • The tenant now has a pet in the building with the owner’s approval, but without body corporate’s approval
  • The body corporate must enforce the by-law breach against the tenant
  • The owner or agent must also enforce a tenancy breach against the tenant, as a by-law breach automatically creates a tenancy breach for the tenant

What is likely to happen in the real world?

As strata management professionals there are a few things that we observe:

  • While tenancy laws and tenant’s rights are the same throughout Queensland, every set of body corporate by-laws are unique. This means the resources and advice available to tenants, rental agents and owners is almost never tailored to their individual by-laws and will be general, not specific advice.
  • Many pets are currently blocked from entering body corporate properties based on the landlord’s personal pet preferences for their unit. That restriction is about to be severely limited.
  • Media attention to this rental law change will most likely result in rental agents and body corporate committees receiving substantially more pet applications from tenants.
  • Even when correctly supplied by a rental property manager, tenants rarely review the body corporate by-laws in detail, or consider their effect, before signing a lease. This step in rental property leasing will become much more important.

As always, BCsystems will continue to work with our rental property and on-site managers to achieve the best outcome for all stakeholders.

Resources

ABC News article: Queensland rental law changes start October 1, making it harder to deny pets, terminate leases – ABC News

Housing Legislation Amendment Act 2021: View – Queensland Legislation – Queensland Government

Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008: View – Queensland Legislation – Queensland Government

RTA Rental Law Changes: Rental law changes | Residential Tenancies Authority (rta.qld.gov.au)

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