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Flat Chat

Cat lover in dog house

There's always a new twist in the conflict between our love of small furry friends and our desire to live in flats. Considering the number of questions I get from pet owners, my next book on property should be called Cats, Dogs and Apartments. (A concerned parent has taken issue with me since this was published - read their views at the end.)

QUESTION: I have one housetrained, quiet, clean and desexed cat who's been with me the last three places I rented. He has not once messed or damaged carpets or walls. But even with great references, I keep getting my applications rejected because I have a pet.

The last apartment I applied for had huge stains on the carpet (and this was AFTER it had been steam cleaned) but I was told the owner didn't want a pet living there.

Obviously I am not willing to give my baby away. Is it better for me to lie and then live in fear that I'll be discovered harbouring a fugitive?
Catwoman, Sydney.

ANSWER: The simple fact is that there are more tenants than there are rented properties right now so real estate agents and landlords can demand that you tick all the easy boxes, such as not owning pets.

It's ridiculous but it's a lazy way of narrowing the field of rental applications.

A few years ago we rented a no-pets apartment into which we smuggled our two cats. We kept the place clean, disposed of the cat litter thoughtfully and paid our rent on time, every time. But during one six-monthly inspection, one of our cats escaped from her hiding place and ran right up the leg of the estate agent. He didn't even blink.

We were good tenants and it would have made no sense to kick us out and get new ones.

So, while I couldn't possibly recommend that you lie about having the cat, it's exactly what I'd do.

I would find a pet friendly-building where owners aren't going to complain anyway, smuggle the animal in and be an otherwise perfect tenant. The only mistake you could make then would be to live in fear.

By the way, all you cat-loving landlords, there's clearly a market out there for your properties. Put "cat-owners preferred" in your next ad and see what happens.


Just a point on this topic. My adult daughter had a severe asthma attack as a result of a cat allergy. She had not had any previous symptoms.

When she attended the allergy specialist she was advised to be very, very careful where she rented as even after cleaning, the apartment would still have cat dander in it for about 6 months. She also told us of the horrendous situations some of her patients had faced where they rented an 'affected' apartment, suffered a serious attack, the agent wouldn't allow them to break the lease.... and so on. She said it was a quite common event and to be very wary when renting.

I am a landlord myself and would be absolutely horrified to find that one of my tenants had 'sneaked' in a cat. To put it bluntly, this action could kill a subsequent tenant!

A Concerned Reader

JIMMY REPLIES: I'm sorry to hear about your daughter's condition and I do sympathise.

In my defence I'd point out, however, that I did suggest the "cat smuggler" should find an apartment in a building that was already pet friendly - which I assume that people like your daughter would take steps to avoid. And even if an apartment was now deemed to be "no pets" there is no guarantee that it has never had pets in the significant past.

From an asthma sufferer's point of view, they could ask the landlord/agent to undertake that if an apartment was advertised as pet-free and proved NOT to have been so, that they'd be able to break their lease.

However, ironically, that would put them in the position that pet owners are now in, of being put in the "too hard" basket by lazy estate agents who want easy ways of weeding out "problem" tenants.

I believe people should be able to say that their apartments and/or their buildings should be pet-free as long as there's a good reason for saying so. What I object to is the default "no pets" rules that don't take into consideration people for whom their animals are their only companions. It's all part of this skewed mentality that we have in this country that renters and, especially, apartment residents (owners included) are not entitled to the same basic rights as traditional quarter-acre block dwellers.

And just to show that I'm nothing if not inconsistent, a while ago I gave advice to an asthmatic couple who had moved into their investment apartment in a "no pets" building only to discover that, in their absence, the Executive Committee had allowed one tenant to keep a cat in the apartment next door to theirs.

In that case, I sided with the asthmatics (who were able to have the EC decision rescinded and the cat-owner evicted) and, to be fair, I would expect the cat smuggler to be similarly tossed out if her pet caused any problem.

There are no easy answers to anything to do with apartments but with 30 percent of the population owning pets, my suggestion that landlords could advertise "cat owners preferred" was not as flippant as it may have seemed.

First published SMH June 2007