Consumer Information

Author:  Bonny Fourie
Multimedia Journalist, IOL Property
16 May 2022

You’re welcome to live here, but your children are not

Finding the perfect rental property can be a difficult enough process on its own, but the task is extra tough for parents and pet owners who are often faced with adverts stating: “Regret: no pets or children.”

Even those with house-trained pets or children they claim are well-behaved, or past the noisy or destructive age, are cut off at the start of their search as they too are excluded by these non-negotiable conditions.

Many believe that property owners, who are ultimately protecting their assets, should have the right to decide who they rent to, and the basis on which they make these choices, but some parents feel slighted by landlords who refuse to accommodate them if they have children.

Even though prohibiting tenants with children without good reason is deemed illegal, this seems to be a grey area as far as real estate and legal professionals are concerned. After all, what is deemed as ‘unfair’ or ‘fair’ discrimination is open to interpretation.

“If a landlord has a seventh-floor property with a balcony, he may deem it unsafe for children, and that could be a fair reason to prohibit children,” says Marina Constas, a specialist sectional title and community schemes attorney and director at BBM Law.

The Rental Housing Act states that when advertising a property for rent or negotiating leases with prospective tenants, a landlord “may not unfairly discriminate” against prospective tenants or their households based on their race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language, and birth.

However, discrimination based on age is not as easily proved as prejudice based on gender, sexual orientation, or race, Constas says. Furthermore, she does not believe a court would limit a landlord’s right to choose who he or she rents to.

“The right to own a property is a real right, it is a proprietary right. So if a landlord has a pristine property with new flooring and does not want children living in it, he has the right to deny tenants with children”, she says, acknowledging, however, that it is “quite tricky” when viewed in light of the act.

A rental property is first and foremost an investment, and landlords aspire to take on the least possible risk, said former TPN managing director Michelle Dickens. As such, each individual case needs to be considered on its own merits.

“Landlords may discourage tenants with children in the case of a mature estate where noise levels are controlled by strict body corporate rules.”

Other reasons landlords do not want to rent to tenants with children or pets include potential damage to property or the garden. While not common practice, Constas says there are specific instances in which landlords are adamant about their decisions.

In cases where this clause is stipulated, she explains, there is a perception, right or wrong, that children may create additional complications in a community scheme. The main complaints revolve around noise nuisance.

“Children who are unsupervised can create a problem on common property, or may be a danger to motorists within the scheme if they ride their bikes or skateboards.

“In one of the complexes I acted for, the tenants’ children went to each car in the carports and placed sand in the petrol tanks. In another one, children set the clothes on the washing lines on fire for fun.”

A landlord may also apply his discretion when allowing or disallowing pets, Dickens said.

“An apartment in a pet-friendly complex could easily accommodate a small dog, but where a tenant has two border collies that are active dogs in need of ample space, a landlord may view that particular applicant as a higher risk because of the potential damage to a small garden.”

In community schemes, issues around pets are the most emotive, Constas notes.

“Landlords are bound by the rules of the scheme. If the rules state that pets are not permitted in a particular scheme, the landlords would, in fact, be obligated to insert that clause into the lease.”

“Pets can pose a nuisance to other owners in a complex. The type of nuisance can vary from excessive barking of dogs to cats that slip into other units and spray all over the furniture. We have had cases of squawking parrots and a bulldog that owners demanded be ‘debarked’. We have also seen cats scratching motor vehicles and dogs running freely around common property, traumatising residents.”

Owners who fail to clean up after their dogs when taking them on walks through common property gardens also provoke ire.

“On more rare occasions we have seen snakes escaping from their cages and disappearing into common property pipes.”

Still, the number of tenants looking for homes that welcome their furry friends continues to increase, and landlords that welcome pets could be at an advantage over those who do not. Many new property developments are also now pet-friendly.

With so many competing properties, landlords who allow pets widen the scope of potential clientele, says Catherine de Villiers, rental consultant at Jawitz Properties.

“Tenants looking for pet-friendly accommodation are generally willing to agree to clauses stating that any damage caused by pets will need repairing.”

Jacqui Savage, national rentals manager for the Rawson Property Group, notes that many rental properties are not pet-friendly because four-legged ‘fur kids’ get a bad rap with landlords, and not because the properties themselves can’t handle pets.

“The thing is, pets are family for a lot of people. By not allowing them in your rental property, you’re potentially excluding a significant portion of your target market.

“Adjusting these limitations – within reason and in line with body corporate restrictions of course – is a great way to broaden your tenant pool and differentiate your property from the competition.”

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