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Illegal 'pet bonds' charged on rentals

Christchurch landlords are being warned that asking desperate tenants to stump up “pet bonds” on rental properties is illegal. But with rental properties at a premium in Christchurch, pet owners are handing over the cash anyway.

Landlords can take a maximum of four weeks rent as bond. Charges beyond that are deemed unlawful.

Several pet owners who spoke to The Press said they had been charged additional costs above the four weeks rent as bond because they had a pet. Most did not want to be named for fear of losing their rental property and not being able to find another pet-friendly place.

One pet owner said she did not have much choice in accepting the extra two week’s rent as a pet bond.

“I would rather be in a house than not in a house,” she said.

Another pet owner, Lynda Butterfield, said her landlord charges her an extra $10 per week on rent for her dog, Floyd. She adopted Floyd while she was a fosterer for Dogwatch.

“We kept him because he’s such a legend.”

She accepted the extra cost because she knew how hard it would be to find another rental that would take her animals.

“I’m happy to pay that because he’s a family member.”

When Tony Shields and his wife returned to Christchurch in October after 12 years in Australia, they found it hard to secure a property that would accept 3-year-old poodle Cole. So when a property was offered with the caveat that they would be charged $20 extra a week because of Cole, “we just took what we could”, Shields said.

Shelley Grell has three rental properties, and while she allows cats she prefers not to have dogs. She cited several examples of neighbourhood dogs causing problems for her tenants and said she “didn’t want the hassle” of having them in her properties.


Kaye Roberts, of Streets Ahead Property Management, encouraged anyone who had been charged a pet bond to appeal to the Tenancy Tribunal.

“It’s a blatant disregard of the law.”

Most of the properties Roberts managed had pets and she believed pet owners made the best tenants.

“They’re not going to trash the place because they have nowhere to go.”

Horncastle Property Management general manager Michael Skinner said desperate tenants sometimes offer a pet bond “but we can’t legally take it”.

Abbey Draper, of Christchurch Bull Breed Rescue, said she knew of many pet owners struggling to find suitable rentals. She rehomes about 30 dogs a month, often because owners cannot find homes, and implored landlords to be compassionate.

“People are devastated. I’ve had people absolutely crying as I walk away with their dog,” she said.

Independent Property Managers’ Association president Martin Evans said the problem was worst in Christchurch because people coming from earthquake-damaged homes have been forced into the rental market again.

“They never expected to become tenants again,” he said.

“At the moment, Gerry Brownlee and Cera have the power to change the law,” Evans said.

He approached the Department of Building and Housing and Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee’s office to suggest a temporary change to the law.

“They could have said, ‘all right for the next five years we’ll allow pet bonds’.”

Nothing came from the suggestion.

Evans said allowing a pet bond would be fairer than asking tenants to pay additional rent, particularly since pet owners would still be liable for any damage to the property which would not be covered by the extra rent.

He suggested landlords should reconsider allowing pets as “there are some very nice tenants out there with family pets”.


Under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986, the maximum bond is set at four weeks rent. Requiring a greater amount is an “unlawful act”. Tenants charged a “pet bond” on top of four weeks rent can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal under section 18(4) of the Act. They could ask for the bond to be reduced and seek exemplary damages for being charged more bond than the Act allows.

Increased rent for pets is not prohibited under the Act, so long as the increases are not more frequent than specified under section 24 of the Act.

_Sarah-Jane O’Connor for The Press