How do you rent with pets?

One of the more delicate and contentious issues in leases in South Africa is the debate surrounding pets in a rental property and the restriction of keeping pets within a lease and how reasonable this is. The debate is a sensitive one because many consider their pets as they would any other family member and being restricted from keeping pets gets many very heated and flustered.

“As a Residential Rental Specialist, I deal with the matter almost monthly,” says Grant Rea at Remax Living. “Many landlords simply disallow pets entirely, eliminating a large percentage of people from their potential pool of tenants. This is a particular issue in Cape Town where many people are ardent pet owners.”

He adds that many argue that if a pet is not a nuisance or is not hindering the enjoyment of other residents, the permission cannot reasonably be withheld. While this argument has merit, the property owner still maintains the right to withhold this permission. “Where a lease is silent on the matter it becomes more complicated, especially if the tenant did not have a pet at the commencement of the lease but acquired one later. In my opinion the landlord would have to demonstrate how the ownership of the pet may be prejudicial to either him or the property. However there is currently no law that covers any rights to pet ownership in the tenancy scenario. If the landlord agrees to the tenant keeping the pet, it would not be unreasonable for a landlord to ask for an addition to the lease pertaining to the behaviour of the pet and potential damages. So naturally a clause regarding pet ownership is essential in the lease.”

From a landlord’s perspective, if and when they decide to allow pets, either in a ‘pet friendly’ sectional title unit or freestanding home, it is important to clearly highlight the conditions for such permission to the tenant. As a tenant, it is vital to not keep the pet a secret from the landlord and get clear written permission before moving into the property. Tenants should be upfront with their landlords and let them have as much information about the animal as possible. This information could include a picture, confirmation of sterilisation and inoculation details, breed and temperament.

“Our standard rental agreements are clear on the pet owner/tenant’s responsibility in keeping the pet under control at all times. The tenant also needs to ensure their pet does not cause a nuisance or cause damage, failing which the tenancy may be terminated or the pet needs to be rehomed,” explains Rea.

He adds that many owners in sectional title developments are restricted from keeping any pets in terms of the Conduct Rules; however this may on occasion be overturned with explicit permission from the trustees. “This is becoming less prevalent as developments are simply clamping down on pets being allowed in blocks at all. Often conflict arises when existing pets are seen in the complex and new tenants assume a precedent has been set, so decide to acquire a pet or rent a property without checking on house rules on pets beforehand,” says Rea.

He adds that if a tenant has pets, they need to consider whether the rental property is in fact suitable for their pet. Many smaller apartment spaces are simply inadequate for most dogs, but may be suitable for smaller caged animals or cats if they are house trained. “Ideally, as a tenant with a pet, simply avoid properties that are not advertised as being pet friendly,” advises Rea. 

“Generally pets can result in much conflict at the end of leases, with dogs often the cause of damage to the gardens, wooden floors and the like. Flea infestations, the remnants of pet hair or foul smells and damage to carpets often crop up too. It is highly advised that landlords request and hold a larger deposit when pets are allowed,” Rea concludes.

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