How new NZ law will put onus on landlords to explain why pets are denied

The introduction of pet bonds will mean it may become more difficult for landlords to deny a tenant’s pet, except on reasonable grounds.

However, what reasonable grounds will be is not yet clear — with the Government saying part of the onus will lay with the Tenancy Tribunal’s rulings and guidance from relevant ministries.

The policy will change the Residential Tenancies Act to allow landlords to charge an additional bond of up to two weeks’ rent on top of the standard bond, which is up to four weeks’ rent — if a tenant wishes to have a pet in a property.

Housing Minister Chris Bishop made the announcement today alongside Regulation Minister David Seymour, with four dogs in tow.

Bishop said the Government had talked to the Property Investors’ Federation and believed many landlords would welcome the policy.

“You’ll get a few who’ll say, ‘nope, it’s just a hard pass from me’, but I think you’ll see quite a few landlords pick it up.”

He said tenancy tribunal cases showed people usually had to pay about $400 to $500 for issues due to pets.

“So we’ve just said, ‘rightio, we’ll just take the two weeks’ — that’s an upper limit, it’s a maximum. If landlords want to say just one week, that’s all good, and actually if they want to do it now, as the law provides now, just have a [pet] in their property now if they’d like it.”

He said the additional bond was “a bit of a backstop”.

Bishop and Seymour brought four dogs to the announcement, including Leo, left, and Ladyhawke, Bishop's dog, right.

“I’m not going to pretend there’s a hard and fast science behind it. We’ve gone for the two weeks, I think that’s pretty reasonable.”

He said if a landlord already allowed a pet in their property, it would be up to the next tenancy agreement to update the bond agreement.

Bishop said there was a current level of fair wear and tear on a property and exactly what that meant was “case-specific” and often depended on Tenancy Tribunal rulings.

A pet “smashing up a property” would not be fair wear and tear, he said, but his expectation was a “few scratches on some rugs and some carpet” was within reason.

Two weeks bond would be the maximum, no matter the number of pets, he said.

“There’s an additional fear that many landlords have about the damage that pets can do, I would argue an unreasonable — or almost irrational — fear sometimes.”

Govt to permit an extra bond of up to two-weeks’ rent for tenants to have pets – on top of the existing standard bond.

He said the additional charge — a refundable bond — would help assuage that fear and make it more likely landlords would be open-minded to pets.

Asked what the definition of a “pet” would be under the law, Bishop said what constituted a pet was “relatively self-defining”.

Asked what might constitute “reasonable grounds” under the law, Bishop said there would “undoubtedly” be advice issued from the Housing and Urban Development Ministry and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on it.

“Our intention is to provide for good faith conversations between landlords and tenants about having a pet in their property — that’s a step forward. There are going to be crunchy cases, some of which will probably end up at the Tenancy Tribunal, and as there’s a variety of case law on various different grounds of the Residential Tenancies Act right now, that will be worked through and it will be assisted by the [MHUD and MBIE] guidance.”

Seymour said there was a “missing market” for tenants with pets.

“These changes create that market. So if you have a pet that’s important to you, you’re more likely to find a place to stay.

“Is two weeks perfect? No, but I think it will be pretty good. Is ‘reasonable grounds’ perfectly defined? No, but the Tenancy Tribunal has to declare and define every new law.

“At the end of the day there’s a place for a little bit of common sense and people getting on with each other once the Government’s created the space for that to happen in law — and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

The amendment bill was expected to be introduced to the House in May and Bishop said it was hoped it would take effect by the end of the year. It would follow a select committee process, where finer details of the law — such as what reasonable grounds might mean and whether it might be defined by the law or case law, would be able to be mulled.

Bishop clarified pet bonds would not apply to those with assistance animals due to disability, in line with the status quo.

Law will ‘alleviate’ fears for landlords — advocate group

Auckland Property Investors Association general manager Sarina Gibbon said it was “about time” the Residential Tenancies Act reflected the reality of modern living “where pets are considered part of the family”.

She said it was important tenants rights and landlords’ interests were balanced.

“This law needs to facilitate, not stifle, the relationships between tenants and landlords.”

She said tenants with pets often demonstrated greater commitment to their rental properties, and believed it led to longer tenancies and better property maintenance.

“For too long, landlords have hesitated to accept pet-owning tenants due to concerns about property damage. This law change has the potential to alleviate those fears and foster mutually beneficial relationships between landlords and tenants.

“The proposed changes represent a positive step towards ensuring that both landlords and tenants can enjoy the benefits of responsible pet ownership while safeguarding property interests.”

Gibbon said her group looked forward to engaging in consulation to make sure the final legislation struck “the right balance”.