Lack of pet‑friendly accommodation is a key barrier to safety for victim‑survivors of domestic and family violence

No one should have to choose between their pet, homelessness or domestic violence. Today in Parliament, Abigail advocated for a bill that enhances renters' rights to keep pets.

Abigail said:

As The Greens' spokesperson for animal welfare as well as for gendered violence, I indicate our support for the Residential Tenancies Amendment (Animals in Residential Premises) Bill 2024. The bill does what the previous Coalition Government and this current Labor Government have dragged their feet on for far too long. It is a simple yet vitally important reform that has long been championed by The Greens, the animal welfare sector, the domestic and family violence sector, the Tenants' Union of NSW and widely across our community. For too long, landlords in New South Wales have had the power to unreasonably and without explanation refuse a tenant's request to keep their pet in a rental. That has had far‑reaching and devastating implications on animals and their welfare, as well as the welfare and housing situations of pet owners trying to find a rental or stay in their rental.

Despite small improvements in recent years, such as changes to strata schemes, pet-friendly rentals are extremely difficult to secure, with only around 2 per cent of rentals being pet-friendly. No-one should be forced to choose between finding secure and affordable housing and surrendering their beloved pet. Our pounds and shelters are already overwhelmed, overflowing and under-resourced due to a chronic lack of investment from successive governments and in the absence of any rigorous and accountable animal welfare oversight. Renters are too often forced to surrender their pet because they simply have no other choice. Those pets are sent to pounds and shelters, where they are more often than not euthanised if they cannot be rehomed. In New South Wales, tens of thousands of dogs and cats are euthanised in pounds each year. Making it easier to keep pets in rentals will take a significant amount of that pressure from pounds, shelters and community-led animal rescue groups.

New South Wales's current laws disproportionately affect victim-survivors of domestic and family violence, particularly those who are trying to find a secure rental to flee from violence. Too often, women and their children are forced to make the choice between staying in a violent household, becoming homeless, surrendering their animal or leaving their animal in the violent situation, because they cannot find a rental to accommodate their companion animal, who is often also a victim of domestic violence. Domestic Violence NSW [DVNSW] has consistently cited a lack of animal‑friendly accommodation in New South Wales as one of the key barriers to safety for victim‑survivors. Ensuring pet‑friendly rentals is a core component of domestic violence response and prevention.

We have a long way to go towards properly supporting victim‑survivors staying with their animals and recognising animals as victims of such violence themselves. It is vital that domestic violence services, including emergency, crisis and transitional housing, are animal inclusive so that animals and their humans can receive the support and safety they deserve. That cannot be done without genuine and targeted investment from the New South Wales Government in frontline domestic violence services. We must also make changes to rules around pet microchipping and registration, provide increased access to veterinary care for victim‑survivors, ensure frontline services are trauma informed in relation to the intersection between domestic violence and animal abuse, and properly train animal welfare workers and veterinary professionals to recognise, respond to and refer victim‑survivors.

The bill puts the onus on the landlord to obtain a tribunal order allowing them to refuse consent for a tenant's request, which The Greens support. Labor's pre‑election proposal to allow pets in rentals was to put the power entirely in the hands of landlords, allowing them 21 days to consider a tenant's pet request form and then provide a detailed explanation for their rejection. That proposed model entirely fails to uphold the rights of tenants and to consider the implications on animals and tenants. This bill, on the other hand, rightly takes into account the relevant nuances and rightly follows the model recently adopted in Victoria, which is also similar to what is in place in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. The domestic violence sector, including DVNSW, Women's Safety and Lucy's Project, has previously supported New South Wales adopting a model similar to Victoria's.

I note that stakeholders in the domestic violence sector have previously raised concerns about requiring tenants to notify real estate agents and property owners about animals at any stage of the application, as not only could that potentially bias the application but it could also potentially have implications in relation to perpetrators of violence accessing victims' information about pets. The sector recommended that legislation changes should include restrictions on disclosing the existence of animals prior to being granted a lease on a property. Right now, more renters than ever are facing a rental crisis and the Government lacks the ambition to make the necessary changes to protect them. We have a long way to go towards fully upholding the rights of renters and reforming our rental system from its current state. Housing is a human right. We urgently need to rectify the power imbalance that allows landlords to get away with unchecked rental increases, unfair evictions and often a complete dismissal of renters' rights.

The Greens have always stood up for renters. We will continue to fight for stronger protections and reforms to make renting a genuine, secure and truly affordable option for people in our State. Labor has been dragging its feet for far too long on both the rental and animal welfare reforms we were promised. After being in government for well over a year, Labor has yet to deliver anything for animals or renters in our State. If the Government was serious about addressing the rental crisis and protecting animals, it would have already followed through with its commitments, or at least begun to. I thank the Hon. Emma Hurst for introducing this bill, which does exactly what is needed to make rentals pet friendly, to uphold the rights of both animals and renters, and to meaningfully and immediately address the housing crisis as it impacts on victim‑survivors of domestic abuse. The Greens support the bill and urge the Labor Government to do the same.

 

Read the transcript in Hansard here.

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