My work mate lies beside me as I write. I pause, fingers hovering above the keyboard when I hear her snoring. The sound is rhythmic, soothing and funny at once.
You may have guessed my colleague is a dog. Ally came to us as a puppy four years ago, a 2kg ball of white and caramel-coloured fluff with big brown eyes that can beam into your soul. They telegraph, "Love me". Her wish is our command. Ally has wrapped the kids and I around her furry maltese/cavalier king spaniel paws.
• Read more: The Tauranga suburbs giving the best and worst rental returns
• Read more: 'Kids are the new pets': Tauranga landlords banning children from rentals
• Read more: Renting in Tauranga? Here are the cheapest areas
We got Ally the same day we moved into our house. We had been renting in the Mount for four years, and I waved off the kids' pleas for a dog, saying: "We can't have one here. We're renting." Our family picked out the new pup immediately after buying our home. Our reunion was postponed two months as we waited to close on the property.
Unfortunately, having a pet in Tauranga is a luxury and a liability. The housing shortage, which has forced up rents, also means landlords can be exceptionally picky about to whom they rent their property. "Prefer professional couple", is a popular phrase on real estate websites. It's code for "Must be upper middle-class and childless, with no animals".
Not all landlords take this view, but I've seen enough ads, read enough news stories and heard enough anecdotes to know it's a tough market in which to rent, especially if you don't fit the professional couple mould.
Our family would be hard-pressed to find housing as renters: Our area, Pāpāmoa/ Pāpāmoa Beach this week had 40 three-bedroom homes for rent on Trade Me at $550/week or less. Ticking the 'Pets OK' box returned 0 results. The same search for all Tauranga suburbs shows 239 rental homes, 14 of which will allow pets. Sorry, Ally. You're canine non grata. Not welcome.
I understand why it's easier to ban fur balls. It quickly winnows the field of potential applicants and helps protect an asset in cases where animals misbehave, are dangerous or neglected. But pets are like people; no two are alike. I wouldn't rent my home to someone with a dangerous dog, and I wouldn't want a digger, either (though my lawn runs no risk of featuring in a garden magazine any time soon). Nor would I want to house a non-sterilised cat that sprayed my carpet.
We rented our home over the New Year period several years ago to tenants who asked to bring their dog, an 11-year-old Labrador retriever. I understand taking Rover on holiday can be a bonus but also didn't want to return home to a mongrel mess. I asked for a refundable pet deposit and crossed my fingers. Ours is no show home but it's solid. It remained that way after the family and dog left following a week-long holiday. I refunded the entire deposit.
Dawn Picken: Time to strike back at people who don't vaccinate
An estimated 64 per cent of New Zealanders have pets, though according to 2018 figures from Landlord NZ, 86 per cent of landlords won't allow animals. That equals heaps of cats and dogs living as illegal aliens; getting sent to shelters or being rehomed with friends, family or strangers. A comedian once quipped getting a small, furry friend was prelude to tragedy. "I brought home us crying in a few years. Countdown to sorrow with a puppy." He was referring to sadness that shadows a dog's death. In the Bay, the countdown to sorrow starts much earlier, when Rover's owner can't find a rental that will accept her animal.
Here and abroad, a growing movement supports pet-friendly rentals, according to an article posted last year on landlords.co.nz .
New Zealand's Ministry of Housing and Urban Development has floated a plan to incentivise landlords to allow pets as part of reforms to the Residential Tenancies Act 1986. The Government also wants to ensure a tenant's request for a pet are considered on the merits of each case. Decisions are expected by the end of this year.
Earlier this year, the Government adopted a new pets policy for state house tenants allowing pets.
In Australia, the state of Victoria has amended its tenancy laws to respect a tenant's right to own a pet unless there are overriding regulations, like a pet ban by a body corporate, preventing it.
Pet-friendly landlords can gain loyal tenants willing to pay more and stay longer to keep their pet.
A Barfoot & Thompson 2017 report showed new rentals in Auckland which allowed pets received an additional $54.46 per week on average.
A 2016 New Zealand Court of Appeal ruling helped slam the door on pets by determining landlords must cover the cost of repairs for all damage classed as "accidental" (which pet damage typically would be). Recent changes to the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill (No 2) in July 2019 seek to remedy that, and tenants are now unable to rely on their landlord's insurance for damage they cause to the rental property. They are also liable for accidental damage to rental properties. If damage is caused to the property, tenants will either pay the landlord's excess or four weeks' rent, whichever is the lesser.
Still, horror stories of property owners forced to pay thousands of dollars to cover the costs of ruined carpet or flea infestations have made landlords skittish when it comes to pets.
The Auckland Property Investors Association says pet-inflicted-damages to a rental often have little to do with the pet and more to do with its owner.
It's time landlords evaluate prospective tenants based on ability to pay, living habits and overall responsibility rather than issuing a blanket "NO" against Fluffy and Fido. For so many of us, a house is not a home without our best furry friends.
Dawn Picken also writes for the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend and tutors at Toi Ohomai. She is a former TV journalist and marketing director who lives in Pāpāmoa with her family, including dog, Ally.