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Housesitter asked to pay $500 to give 'pet love'

The rent may sound low for a house in Maroubra, but those interested soon learned why it was maybe too good to be true.

Australians have traditionally been able to pet or house sit as a legitimate way to make money, but the housing crisis appears to be blurring the lines.

A house in the Sydney beachside suburb of Maroubra was recently advertised to rent for $500, roughly a third of the average price. But to score that “minimal” rent, the tenant was expected to care for the house as well as the owner’s cat and dog.

House sitters can charge a daily rate of between $50 and $100, depending on added responsibilities like gardening or pet care, according to AirTasker. So, is it taking advantage of low vacancy rates and tenants' desperation to find a nice place to live to flip the script on house sitting? Or is it fair to offer a nice house at a discounted rate, particularly as mortgage holders are battling stubbornly high interest rates?

Composite image of a dog in a house hallway, and a backyard.
Advert seeks "perfect person" to pay $500 a week to house sit and look after the cat and dog, Lola and Rufus (pictured). (Source: Facebook/Don't Rent Me)

Leo Patterson Ross, CEO of the Tenants' Union of NSW, told Yahoo Finance it wasn't unusual for pet sitters to live in, but being asked to pay rent and provide a service could be a symptom of a bigger problem.

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“It speaks to the need to resolve our rental crisis to make sure that housing is something anyone feels they can access where they need," he said.

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"It would be a shame for pet sitting to become something people are pushed into because of the rental crisis, rather than an interest in and caring for pets."

He said it was important to nut out what the expectations were for the tenant, such as dog walking, pet care and how rent arrears would be worked out.

Is cheap rent or mortgage help worth legal risk?

The median rent for a house in Maroubra is $1300 a week, so $500 is significantly cheaper for those struggling to find an affordable rental in the cost-of-living crisis. But property lawyer Monica Rouvellas warned the "unusual" set-up was "risky" and that there were legal issues both tenant and owner should consider.

“Generally speaking, when a tenant goes and rents a home, they are responsible for everything attached to that home – such as looking after furniture. In this case, it’s the dog and cat," she told Yahoo.

The advertisement, which was posted online but later deleted, mentioned the cat and dog needing "pet love" were aged 13.

"Looking for the perfect person or couple to enjoy our beautiful home, look after the pets Lola and Rufus, cat and dog both 13 for over 4 months. Minimal rent for 4 months house sit and pet love in Maroubra end June," the ad said.

Rouvellas said the age of the pets posed an additional risk to the renter.

"What if something happens to the dog - if it gets sick or injured? The tenant will bear the responsibility in terms of liability," she said.

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Composite image of a dining room and a bedroom inside a house.
The deal includes 'minimal rent' to live in the Sydney property but includes pet sitting. (Source: Facebook/Don't Rent Me)

The 'duty of care' incumbent on the owner meant they were also potentially leaving themself open to risk should one of the animals injure the tenant.

Rouvellas questioned whether the advertisement with the additional "job" of pet care could be as mortgage rates are so high that owners needed to recoup costs while they were on holiday.

Andrew Kent, president of the Australian Landlords Association, said advertisements like this weren't a "normal thing".

"People come to all sorts of arrangements with family and friends over house sitting, this was just put online," he said.

Australians can enter into private legal contracts for housing, but Rouvellas said anyone considering such an agreement should put in clear clauses around liability and responsibility.

She said the most common fixed-term rental agreement was for six or 12 months but, under the Residential Tenancies Act, the minimum was three months.

The act does not cover short-term leases under three months for holiday homes – such as Airbnb properties.