Are you renting and want to adopt a cat but are unsure what the new rules about having a pet are? Or do you already have a cat and need to find a rental property?
The Cat People of Melbourne advises you to do 2 things in both of these situations – understand your new legal rights and responsibilities about renting with cats which are clearer than they used to be, and be open and honest about your circumstances.
I am renting and want to adopt a cat
In this situation, you must ask your landlord or property manager for permission before you adopt a cat.
In March 2020, the Victorian Residential Tenancies Act 1997 was changed to include new rules about pets. This law sets out the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants (renters). The most important changes are that landlords now can’t automatically say no to pets. ‘No pet’ clauses in rental agreements are also no longer valid.
Under the revised rules, you need to ask your landlord if you can keep a cat on the property using Consumer Affairs Victoria’s approved ‘Pet request form’.
Landlords have 14 days (starting the day after they receive the form) to make a decision. They cannot unreasonably refuse your request – they must have a good reason to do so.
If your landlord agrees that you can have a cat, they should give you this consent in writing. They may try to negotiate certain conditions for keeping a cat on the property. If you agree to those conditions, also get these conditions in writing.
If your landlord doesn’t agree that you can have a cat, they need to apply to VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal) and tell you that they’ve done this within the 14 days. They must also apply to VCAT if their refusal is because you didn’t agree to any conditions they asked for.
Be aware that you can’t have a cat while VCAT is making a final decision.
If your landlord doesn’t respond to your request at all within the 14 days, you can keep a cat on the property.
If you rent an apartment or unit, there is likely to be an owners corporation that manages the property and they may have rules about whether you can have pets. You should have been given a copy of the owners corporation rules when you moved in. If you haven’t, ask your landlord for it so you know what the rules are. This is important because if there are rules about pets being allowed in the building and individual properties, you’ll need to follow these rules.
Also be aware that in Victoria, local councils have wide powers to make laws relating to cat ownership. This can include registration and microchipping, how many cats you can have without applying for an ‘excess animal permit’ or a cat curfew. Check your local council for information on keeping cats in your area and make sure you follow the local laws.
Finally, remember that all renters have a responsibility to keep their rental property clean, avoid damage and not create issues for other people or their properties. Landlords have rights if a pet causes property damage or other problems.
I have a cat and need to find a new rental property
When applying for a new rental property, be honest and include information about your cat (or cats) in your rental application. By being honest, you won’t have to worry about hiding your cat or about the landlord eventually finding out and there being repercussions for you.
Finding a rental property is a competitive process, so you may want to include in your application what you intend to do to keep the property clean and undamaged. You can also ask your previous landlord or property manager for a pet reference. Other information you can include in your application is your cat’s age, temperament and vaccination history. You can attach a recent photograph, to pull at their heartstrings. You may also want to include character references from a previous landlord, property manager, vet or anyone who can credibly speak to your cat’s behaviour.
Despite all of this, it is still possible that a landlord can choose another applicant over one who has a pet. It is not unlawful discrimination if a landlord does this. This decision is their personal choice.
Finally, if you are the successful applicant for a property, be aware that the landlord can’t ask you for a ‘pet bond’ in addition to the usual bond you have to pay. They may explain this as being needed to cover any costs if your cat causes damage to the property. But if your cat causes any property damage, the landlord can make a claim on your usual bond. A second ‘pet bond’ isn’t required and you are not legally required to pay one.