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.


To see how a city embraces remote work, just look to Helsinki

A deeply rooted culture of trust is crucial to the success of remote work. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When I speak to Anssi Salminen, an account manager who lives an hour outside Helsinki, he’s working from a wooden platform on the edge of a Finnish lake. With a blanket laid out and his laptop set up, the sun low in the sky, Anssi’s remote work arrangement seems blissful. 

“I spend around half of my time working somewhere else other than the office,” he says. “I can work from home, or on the go, and I also travel to the Netherlands once a month and work from there.

“The emphasis in my work has always been that it doesn’t matter when or where I work, as long as I get things done.”

For many people around the world, the shift to remote work was sudden, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Finland, however, is finding the transition much less significant. Before Covid-19, the Nordic nation already displayed impressive levels of remote working, with 14.1% of its workforce reporting usually working from home. Only the Netherlands has a comparable percentage of remote workers, while the UK lagged behind at 4.7%, and the US’s remote workforce lingered at around 3.6%

Anssi works for one of many Helsinki-based companies that offers its employees flexible policies around when and where they work. That arrangement is in part due to the Finnish capital’s thriving start-up scene. In spite of being a relatively small city by global standards it is home to over 500 technology start-ups. These companies are leading the way when it comes to keeping employees connected wherever they choose to work.

“Our company has a completely location-free working policy,” says Kasper Pöyry, the CEO of Helsinki-headquartered software company Gapps. “All meetings are made available for online participants and facilitated accordingly. Some employees have worked extensively from abroad on a working holiday, whilst others prefer the comfort and social aspects of the well-stocked office. Whatever works for our employees is what works for the company.”

Like Gapps, many Helsinki-based firms are deeply preoccupied with providing the necessary technology to attract talent in a vast and sparsely populated country. Finland has only 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, and companies understand that in order to compose teams of specialised expertise, they may have to seek talent outside of the city. Local governments take a similarly proactive stance toward technological access, and Helsinki offers free, unrestricted, high-speed Wi-Fi from city-wide hotspots, while the country as a whole boasts some of the best coverage in Europe. 

But encouraging remote work isn’t just about optimising the potential of Finland’s workforce – companies in Helsinki also recognise that flexibility has clear benefits for both staff and employees. 

“The idea of a good work-life balance is ingrained in Finnish culture,” says Johannes Anttila, a consultant at organisational think tank Demos Helsinki. “It goes back to our rich history of social dialogue between labour unions and employers, but also to an interest in delineating the rules of working life and pushing towards people being able to enjoy their private life. Helsinki has been named the best city in the world for work-life balance, and I think that this underlies a lot of the mentality around remote work.” 

For Peter Seenan, the extent to which Helsinki residents value their free time and prioritise a work-life balance prompted his move to the city ten years ago. He now works for Finnair, and points to Finland’s summer cottages as an example of how important taking time to switch off is for people in the country. These rural residences, where city residents regularly uproot to enjoy the Nordic countryside, are so embedded in Finnish life that the country boasts around 1.8 million of them for its 5.5 million residents

“Flexible and remote work are very important to me because it means that I don’t feel like I’m getting stuck in a routine that I can’t control easily,” he says. “When I’m working outside of the office I’ll go down to my local sauna and go ice swimming during the working day, typically at lunchtime or mid-morning, and I’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards… In winter time especially, flexibility is important because it makes it easier to go outside during daylight hours. It’s certainly beneficial for my physical and mental health, and as a result my productivity improves.”

The relaxed attitude to working location seems to pay off – Finland is regularly named the happiest country in the world, scoring highly on measures such as how often its residents exercise and how much leisure time they enjoy. With large swathes of unspoiled countryside and a national obsession with the outdoors, sustainability is at the forefront of its inhabitants’ minds, leading to high levels of support for measures to limit commuting. In January, Finland passed a new Working Hours Act, the goal of which was to help better coordinate employee’s work and leisure time. Central to this is cementing in law that employees can independently decide how, when, and where they work.

Yet enacting the new ruling is not as simple as just sending employees home with their laptops. For Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor of knowledge management at LUT University, perhaps the most fundamental feature that remote work relies upon is a deeply rooted culture of trust, which Helsinki’s residents speak of with pride. The anecdotal evidence is backed up by data which suggests that Finland boasts one of the highest levels of trust and social cohesion in Europe, and equality and transparency have always been key cornerstones of political thought in the country.

“Trust is part of a national culture in Finland – it’s important and people value it highly,” she explains. “There’s good job independence, and people are valued in terms of what they do, not how many hours they work for. Organisations tend to be non-hierarchical, and there is a rich history of cooperation between trade unions, employers, and employees to set up innovative working practices and make workers feel trusted and valued. 

“It’s now important that we ensure that this trust can continue to be built over technology, when workers might have been more used to building it face-to-face.”

As companies begin to look hopefully toward a post-Covid future, the complexities of remote work are apparent. Yet amid issues of privacy, presenteeism, and social isolation, the Helsinki model demonstrates the potential benefits of a distanced working world. The adjustment to remote work, if continued after the crisis, offers a chance to improve companies’ geographical diversity and for employers to demonstrate trust in their workforce. On these issues, Blomqvist believes other cities and employers can learn a lot from Helsinki.

“People are now beginning to return to their workplaces, but even as they do they are starting to consider the crisis as a jumping point to an even more remote future,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener, and people are now interested in learning from Finland’s good practices… We are able to see the opportunity, and the rapid transition to remote work will allow other countries to do the same.”