Cats and dogs: How the rise of private rental sector is making life insecure for pets

Awwww. Image: Getty.

Pet owners are grappling with rental insecurity. Despite the popularity of pet ownership across countries such as Australia (where 63 per cent of households include a pet), the United States (62 per cent) and United Kingdom (46 per cent), rental policy rarely recognises pets as important members of households. Instead, landlords and property agents typically restrict the right to keep pets.

Reports from animal welfare organisations suggest these policies make it difficult for pet owners to find rental housing. There is also evidence of connections between rental insecurity and poor animal welfare outcomes. And insecure housing, including difficulties finding pet-friendly rental properties, is often a key factor driving people to relinquish their pets.

The No Pets clause

My research shows that pet ownership can trigger feelings of housing insecurity for renter households. The research involved an open survey with 679 households that had rented with pets in Sydney, as well as 28 in-depth interviews.

The majority of survey respondents rated finding pet-friendly housing in their suburb as difficult. They perceived that it became more difficult to find rental properties after they acquired their pet.

About half of those who always declared their pets when they applied for properties had been given pet ownership as the reason their application was rejected. These figures are likely to represent only a small proportion of those who have been rejected for pet ownership as reasons for rejection are rarely provided.

The competitive nature of Sydney’s rental market, which gives real estate agents a larger pool of tenants to choose from, was believed to have increased the challenge. A small number of households had even been offered rental housing if they got rid of their pet. These experiences led to a sense of rental insecurity and feelings of stress when participants wanted or needed to move house.

Compromising on quality, cost and location

In the in-depth interviews, households were asked how they found their current rental property. They explained how long lists of available rental properties would disappear when the “pet-friendly” filter was activated on popular property search websites.

There was also a widespread perception that advertised pet-friendly housing was of a lower quality than housing that did not allow pets. Many described making compromises on property quality and cleanliness. Some purposefully chose less desirable properties to increase their chance of success.

For example, one participant stated:

I think they call them ‘pet friendly’ because they don’t really care what happens to them. They’re probably going to pull them down eventually.

Another explained:

It was quite heartbreaking when you looked at the properties, because they were pretty much all rundown and disgusting. Really sort of dark and dingy, bathrooms that you would see were, I suppose, just not up to scratch. Or houses that seriously probably haven’t had a lick of paint or anything done to them in 20, 30 years.

Households also made compromises on property location and cost. These choices led to feelings of housing stress. For some it meant living in housing they considered sub-standard, including properties that were unclean or located in undesirable or unsafe areas. A number accepted longer work commutes or greater financial stress to secure a property.

As one interview participant put it when explaining why they stayed in a neighbourhood they didn’t like:

My car is on the street and it’s been broken into several times and there are a few personal safety issues. But they let me have the cat, so...

The vast majority of pet owners declared some or all of their pets when applying to rent a property. Those who had previously been rejected for a property because they had a pet were less likely to declare their pets. Why take this risk?

In-depth interviews suggest that renter households were extremely concerned about housing security: they valued their rental property and wanted to live in it as long as they could.

However, some felt that they could secure a property only if they didn’t declare their pets. Despite finding it extremely stressful to live in a rental property without permission to kept their pets, these households risked eviction so they could find somewhere to live with their pets.

Are landlords' fears justified?

Tenant experiences in the research suggest that landlords are concerned about the risks to their properties that pets might bring.

Sometimes these concerns are based on real experience. However, there is some evidence to suggest that landlord fears are just that.

In one US study, for instance, 63 per cent of landlords who were concerned about pets in their properties didn’t have any firsthand experience of the problems they identified. Further, when damage did occur it was “far less than the average rent or the average pet deposit”.

In Australia, somewhat counter-intuitively, having a pet-permitting lease may provide more protection for landlords than simply restricting pets. Pet-friendly leases do not mean all pets are automatically allowed. Landlords can ask for a “pet CV” as well as references for the pet, such as from a local vet, neighbours or former landlord. This is a way of ensuring the pet applicant is appropriate to the property.

Some jurisdictions in Australia allow for special provisions such as for carpets to be steam-cleaned if an animal such as a cat or dog lives at the property. In others, such as in the US and some states in Australia, an additional pet bond can be charged to cover any potential damage.

A pet-friendly lease may even bring benefits. US research suggests that households with pets stayed in rental properties longer than those that did not have pets. This brings longer-term, more secure rent to property owners. These factors are worth weighing up when landlords are making property management decisions.The Conversation

Emma Power is a senior research fellow in geography and urban studies at Western Sydney University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 

In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.