The first and most important thing to remember is that there is NOTHING in the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 that restricts a tenant’s ability to keep a pet.* The word ‘pet’ doesn’t appear once in any of the 136 sections in the body of the Act, or in any of the 100 clauses in Schedule 1 that make up the Standard Residential Tenancy Terms. Keeping a pet or pets is ordinarily not a breach of the agreement and therefore not an issue.
Note: while the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 does not mention pets, there is other legislation that regulates the keeping of pets in the ACT. These are: the Dog Control Act 1975; the Animal Nuisance Control Act 1975, and the Animal Diseases Act 1993. While it is beyond the scope of this website to explain how these Acts work, you can find them all at www.legislation.act.gov.au
However, it is possible to add additional terms to a tenancy agreement, so a lessor could add a clause that says ‘no pets are allowed’, or that imposes a condition or limitation on a tenant’s ability to keep a pet (e.g. that the pet must be kept outdoors). Keep in mind though, that any clause that is inconsistent with the Standard Terms must be agreed on and signed by both lessor and tenant and then submitted for endorsement by the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
The Tribunal has considered the issue of whether a tenancy agreement can include a clause preventing a tenant from keeping a pet and has decided that it can and that such a clause is not inconsistent with the Standard Terms and therefore does not need to be endorsed by the Tribunal in order to be valid.
So: If your tenancy agreement contains a clause preventing you from having a pet, breaching it would be a breach of the agreement. The landlord can issue you a Notice to Remedy. This means that you have to remedy the breach (i.e., find somewhere else for the animal to live) within 2 weeks. If you still have the pet after 2 weeks, the landlord can amen an application to the Tribunal for an order that you remove the pet. The landlord may even issue a 2 week Notice to Vacate on the basis that you did not remedy the breach. If you did not move out and the landlord made an application to the Tribunal for an order terminating the tenancy it is debatable whether the Tribunal would determine that this was a fundamental breach of the agreement and justify termination, it is more likely that they would order that the breach be remedied, ie the pet removed. See Tenancy Factsheet: Eviction in the ACT for more information.
Tenancy induced by ‘false or misleading statement’
Another potential hurdle is in section 52 of the Act, which reads:
On application by a lessor, the Tribunal may make a termination and possession order if satisfied that the residential tenancies agreement was induced by a false or misleading statement of the tenant.
It is not uncommon for lessors, and very common for real estate agents, to ask prospective tenants whether or not they have a pet, how many pets, etc before a tenancy is offered. In the case of agents, these questions are frequently contained in the application form. If such a question is asked and the tenant answers it with a false or misleading statement (e.g. ‘I don’t keep any pets’), and a tenancy is then entered into, then it is possible that the lessor could at some later stage argue that the tenancy was ‘induced’ by the false/misleading statement, and seek termination under section 52.
For the Tribunal to order the termination, the breach needs to be serious enough to ‘justify’ it (section 48). It is possible that the Tribunal would decide that the breach is sufficiently serious, and order the termination. It is perhaps more likely however, that the Tribunal would order that the tenant remedy the breach (perhaps by giving the pet away).
(*NB: If you rent a property that is managed by an owners corporation, you will need consent from the owners corporation to keep pets. However, consent cannot be unreasonably withheld. Check the FAQ Body corporate/owner’s corporation for more information.)
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