If you haven’t had to move homes or been out of the property market for a while you might not be aware of the perfect storm brewing. Increased densification of our cities coupled with the growing “no pets” trend is leading to vacant rental properties for longer than the owner can afford, sought-after properties in high-demand areas sitting on the market for longer, and shelters filling up at an alarming rate.
In Cape Town’s most popular residential nodes the situation is especially odious. The continual semigration to Cape Town has spiked demand for rental accommodation, especially in the lower and middle markets in popular suburbs, leading to skyrocketing prices. Consider the fact that less than 10% of rental properties available in areas such as the Atlantic Seaboard and in the Southern Suburbs are pet-friendly and it becomes clear why animal lovers are being pushed into corners across the country.
Brendan Miller, Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty Atlantic Seaboard and City Bowl CEO, agrees that there are not nearly enough pet-friendly properties to meet the demand. “We’re hitting this stumbling block even on unfurnished, spacious homes with large grounds,” he says. “It has also become an issue in the sales market where we are seeing more and more sectional title and cluster developments imposing an outright ban on pets. This severely limits buyers’ choices, especially in the lower to mid-markets, which on the Atlantic Seaboard means anything from around R2m to R10m.”
Lorraine-Marie’ Dellbridge, rental manager for Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs, says that people falsely believe that because these suburbs are traditionally seen as family-friendly they will be pet-friendly. This is simply not the case anymore, with an increasing number of landlords equating animals to damage.
The situation doesn’t look much different in other major metros. With especially pet-owners on KwaZulu-Natal’s desirable North Coast struggling to find suitable accommodation. Manny Testa, principal at Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in Durban North and Umhlanga, says that luxury estates’ pet policies are actually impacting property values.
Testa cites the example of the Mount Edgecombe Country Estate where on Estate 1 residents are permitted to keep any breed of dog if they obtain permission, but on Estate 2 no dogs that weigh more than 22kg are allowed – no exceptions granted.
“In my experience it’s a lot easier to move property on Estate 1 and we see more demand for homes there because people know they can live with their dogs, which they generally consider to be members of their family,” he explains.
Terence Olivier, animal rights activist and founder of Rainbow Warriors, which operates primarily on the South Coast of KZN, says that this problem is impacting on resources and functionality of animal shelters and rehoming organisations across the country. “We receive calls daily; it’s Tuesday and I’ve had 11 calls asking for help this week alone,” he says. “I now have one lady who needs to move into a smaller flat due to financial constraints. She needs to find new homes for her four cats that she has had for 11 years.”
Because these are older animals, Olivier says it will be almost impossible to find new homes for them.
According to Olivier an upsetting problem in holiday areas is the trend of landlords renting out their homes to locals on a short-term lease and then evicting them in October or November to be able to take advantage of the increased rentals these properties can achieve from holiday-makers over the festive season. “Last year from October to December, Rainbow Warriors received 161 calls either from desperate pet owners with no alternative or neighbours informing us that dogs or cats had been abandoned,” he says.
Although the situation is less dire in Gauteng, with some suburbs even having an oversupply of pet-friendly rental accommodation on offer, there is an emerging trend in suburbs such as Sandton and Fourways of the “no pets” rule being put in place by bodies corporate and landlords.
“Recently, yet another well-known Fourways complex’s body corporate amended the rules to a no-pets policy,” says Shaun Groves, Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty rental manager in Gauteng. “We are also seeing bodies corporate effectively granting ‘life rights’ to existing pets, meaning when your current animal passes you’re not allowed to replace it.”
Wetnose Animal Rescue Centre, outside Bronkhorstspruit on the border of Gauteng and Mpumalanga, says that the sudden amendment of pet policies is almost a bigger problem than pet owners having to rehome their animals due to relocation. According to the organisation, almost daily it receives calls from desperate animal lovers whose landlord or body corporate has now given them the ultimatum of having to rehome their animals.
In the case of tenancy it is important that the pet owner understands their rights: The landlord must provide explicit proof that the animal has now suddenly become a nuisance to other tenants and neighbours. If the pet owner lives in a sectional title unit where the rules have changed it must be made clear that owners with animals who are already living there will have to receive life rights for these animals at the very least. More importantly, though, is the fact that all amendments to the scheme rules need to be passed by all owners (the body corporate) so stay abreast of all communication between trustees and owners, and attend meetings when and where possible.
The issue reaches further than the rights of animals and animal lovers though. Lew Geffen, chairman of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, says that more flexibility in especially the rental market is required.
“Densification is the future of every city in South Africa, just as surely as people will continue to want to keep pets,” he explains. “In such a tight national economy when bonds still have to be serviced and rental properties can’t stand vacant for months, somewhere along the line there is going to have to be more compromise.”
According to Geffen trustees and landlords will have to come to acknowledge that standards are maintained by having a choice of the most desirable residents out of the entire pool of home seekers, rather than simply the best of those who don’t own animals.
Dellbridge, rental manager for the Southern Suburbs, agrees by adding that as much as a quarter of vetted and financially stable prospective tenants request pet-friendly accommodation. At the same time Testa says that pet-friendly homes up for rental or sale are moved incredibly fast compared to the properties with a “no-pet” policy simply because these properties enjoy such high demand. What’s more, says Testa, is that landlords and trustees are essentially excluding some of the more solid members of the community in general, from their prospective pool of tenants and buyers. “People who love animals and own pets put down deeper roots because pets tend to be a 15-year commitment. Most are not fly-by-nighters.”
In addition to the exclusion of a significant pool of tenants a no-pet rule also eliminates the landlord’s ability to ask a higher rental – especially applicable in more sought-after suburbs. “Landlords can charge and achieve higher monthly rentals if they allow animals, as most pet owners are very happy to pay a premium for a pet-friendly home,” explains Dellbridge. “They’re also likely to be more stable and responsible long-term tenants who will appreciate and take care of the property because they know that finding another suitable home wouldn’t be easy.”
Everyone agrees that requesting a pet deposit, stating the rules with regards to pet ownership clearly in an addendum to the rental contract, and discussing all expectations and restrictions clearly with the tenant should relieve the landlord’s concern. “It is important that landlords and bodies corporate carefully consider their pet policies rather than lose money while they wait for suitable tenants without animals,” adds Grove.
Animal activist Olivier wants to stress, though, that it all starts with education of pet owners from all creeds and walks of life. “I am very passionate about animal rights and practice an absolute zero tolerance for any form of suffering or pain to animals. None of this is the animal’s fault. We will always find a solution; putting the animal down is not an option when a pet owner has approached us for help. But the increase in ‘no-pet’ policies is putting a significant strain on animal welfare organisations across the board,” he says. “Landlords need to act more responsibly and realise the implications of their actions. There are ways to protect yourself and your property while renting to animal lovers.”
But the most important factor, according to Olivier, is preaching timeous sterilisation to all pet owners. His organisation is planning a walk from Richards Bay to Port Edward to raise awareness around the issue of sterilisation and how important it is in responsible pet ownership and population control.
The question we’re asking is why big industry is not taking action. With 5,3m South African households spending almost R5bn a year at retail level to feed and care for their pets, surely big industry players have a responsibility not only to South African pet owners, but more importantly to their investors to take steps to protect the market in which they operate.
This multi-billion-rand industry, which is growing at a rate of 3% per annum, is reliant on animal lovers’ ability to keep and love their animals in their homes. If the “no pet” policy trend becomes a real problem impacting on people’s ability to keep pets in their homes where they want to live, work, and play, then the industry will surely suffer eventually as pet ownership decreases.
Perhaps the solution is for big industry to step up and offer education to landlords and trustees on safely and securely accommodating pets without significant risk, or provide assistance to animal welfare organisations in their attempt to educate pet owners across the country. Either of which are solutions that will go some way in securing the future of such a thriving industry.