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New Laws for Tenants With Pets

It is no secret that landlords and property owners display reluctance to accept pet owning tenants into their homes. With recent research showing that a mere 7% of landlords offer animal loving tenants a pet friendly rental opportunity despite opportunity, property owners are set to be in for a rude awakening given that over half of UK adults are pet owners. Given that the current predictions have exclusively estimated this figure to have grown and those navigating the housing landscape of the UK being dubbed “generation rent” and it’s not hard to see why rental property owners may need to revise their approach. Regardless of which side of the fence a landlord resides on over this contentious and longstanding issue, the government has stepped in, proposing radical changes to make renting fairer for animal lovers.

The New Model Tenancy Agreement

The newly proposed Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation and protection) Bill sets out potential changes to the current UK law surrounding tenant’s rights when renting with pets. The legislative move, initially put forward by conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, is undergoing the process to make these changes legally binding, having gone through a second reading by parliament in January 2021 and essentially granting pet owners the right to live with their pets in most rental properties.

Being in tune with the frustrations of contemporary renters, the conservative MP detailed that the current renting landscape is to too hostile towards pet owners, saying it is unfair for families to “be torn apart”.  With this in mind, if implemented in law, the new changes look to level the playing field between landlords and pet owning renters, helping tenants that own well behaved pets to easily find a home.

With the proposed changes coming as part of the new Model Tenancy Agreement, under the act property owners and landlords are prevented from adopting their historical stance of a blanket ban on accepting pets in their rental properties. These no pet clauses can be common in tenancy agreements, giving landlords the power to evict a tenant that brings a pet into the rental as they will have been in breach of the tenancy agreement terms. Once these new measures are in place however, these practices will be out dated and to an extent unenforceable, with landlords now being required to instead asses a request for the tenant to own a pet.

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Whilst this seemingly opens the door for landlords that have historically not rented to pets to continue to reject these offers, property owners will instead have to reject each case individually. Once a request from the tenant has been made the landlord will have 28 days in which to respond, citing a valid and defendable reason as to why any pets are rejected.

Rejections made by the landlord will only be upheld if the case made by the property owner is deemed credible. In these instances arguments can be made for smaller properties where owning a larger pet like a dog would not be practical, not to mention unfair on the animal itself. Landlords also demand, and rightly so, that before any pet owning tenant is accepted into their rental property that they first provide evidence of being a responsible pet owner.

Of course, the term responsible pet owner is rather vague in itself, and with the bill having not yet been enacted legally, this leaves a great deal of room for interpretation by landlords meaning that any tests or requirements will not be standardised and may vary between rental properties. This doesn’t seem like too much of a headache, however, one of the requirements the proposed bill recommends is that the pet demonstrates the ability to respond to basic commands, raising questions regarding what basic commands a pet should be able to follow and if they are responsive enough, i.e. how the pet responds to these commands. The bill also further proposes that any pet owning tenants must be able to obtain certification from the vet proving that their fury friend has been vaccinated, spayed or neutered and is free of parasites.

Does the Bill Apply to All Pets?

Despite the sweeping, all-encompassing nature of the proposed Domestic Animals Bill, the intricacies that inform if a pet should be allowed to stay in a rental property will, as expected, vary depending on the kind of pet. For smaller pets such as mice or rabbits, the tenant is spared from a great deal of the process, instead simply being required to obtain a certificate from an authenticated vet stating that the animal is in good health and it is being cared for in a caring and responsible manner.

Why Landlords Should Say Yes to Pets

We have already addressed the cold reception many pet loving renters have faced in the UK across recent years; with over 90% of landlords taking measures to ensure their rental is free from pets. However, reports have shown this figure has only increased through the nations lockdown, meaning the nation’s rental market is soon to be inundated with animal loving tenants. This is a fantastic opportunity for landlords that are new to the rental market and those that are currently struggling to occupy their vacant rental properties. Of course, with this fast rising demographic, landlords that advertise their rental opportunity as pet friendly from the outset will receive not only higher amounts of interest, but a higher quality of tenant that is looking to show property owners they are responsible pet owners and renters.

With such a dismal amount of landlords offering pet friendly rentals across the UK, it goes without saying that animal loving tenants have a tough time finding new rental opportunities, not to mention the struggle of earning yet another landlord’s trust.  Because of this historical hardship if a tenant is able to find a pet friendly rental property, they are far more likely to stay in the tenancy for longer. Again, this is good news for pet friendly landlords, with longer tenancy periods giving them a fantastic outlook on financial stability, securing them monthly rental payments for an extended period, something hard to come by especially in the current economic climate. This longer retention of tenants also gives landlords relief through not having to go through the expensive process of advertising a rental property, with agency fees, referencing costs, interim repairs and personally covering any buy to let mortgage payments being prevented.  Agreeing to a longer tenancy period with pet owning tenant also saves landlord from experiencing extended void periods, because the unfortunate reality is if the property is empty and no rent is being paid the landlord is losing significant income.

Landlords that do offer a place for animal loving tenants can also enjoy charging a slightly higher rent for their properties. Regarded as “pet rent” this extra amount is intended to be a financial safety net for the property owner. With pets in rental properties almost being synonymous with property damage to some degree, this additional monthly fee helps landlords to pay for any additional cleaning, fumigation, repairs or furnishing replacements that may be needed at the end of the tenancy. Whilst it could be argued as a barrier to entry for some renters, this higher payment does come with its merits, reducing the amount tenants could have lost in their initial deposit, now helping them to recover the full amount given that the property is in a good state of repair when they vacate the property at the end of the tenancy period.

Additionally, with the 2015 Consumer Rights Act stating that any pet related clause in a tenancy agreement “should allow for the tenant to ask permission to keep a pet. The landlord is not allowed to unreasonably refuse the request”, it seems as legislation is moving to empower pet owning tenants. But for landlords that accept pets into their rental property, past tenants are likely to pass this information on through online channels, spreading word of the best available opportunities and working to ensure that a property is never empty for long.

Why Do Most Landlords Not Allow Pets?

However, despite the Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation and protection) Bill not yet being fully committed into law, some landlords have wasted no time in expressing their doubts about the moves influence over the rental market.  

Whilst the act has been hailed as something universally beneficial, allowing renters more flexibility over their lifestyle and landlords more potential tenants to occupy their vacant rentals, property owners believe it will have an adverse effect in the long run. With landlords that already choose to rent to pet owners having the maximum deposit they can take from new tenants being capped to a maximum of 5 weeks rent after the implementation of the Tenant Fees Bill, landlords are apprehensive of further reductions to their financial protection. It is worth mentioning that this restriction does take into account the amount of rent charged annually at the property in question, with rentals that charge in excess of £50,000 a year for rent being able to retain up to six weeks rent through the deposit.

As mentioned, many landlords have instead resorted to adding what has been dubbed “pet rent”, meaning tenants with fury friends will be obliged to put up to an extra £50 a month, something that could certainly spoil the rental appetite for this new wave of renters. This increase should be done with fair consideration to any other pet friendly rental opportunities throughout the area, too much of an increase and renters will simply look elsewhere.

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What Happens if You Don’t Tell Your Landlord About a Pet?

Although it remains unclear if the Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation and protection) will make good on its ambitious promise to animal loving renters, but regardless of how hard finding a rental opportunity may be for pet loving tenants, keeping furry friends a secret from landlords is never recommended.

If a tenant was to bring a pet into a rental property without the landlord’s permission, the property owner is within their rights to commence eviction proceedings through issuing a Section 8 notice. The notice would be enforceable through the 1988 Housing Act as the tenant will have been in breach of their tenancy agreement; however, the key issue here for landlords is the specifics of what has been stipulated in the tenancy agreement. If the agreement doesn’t detail that tenants must first request the landlords permission to bring pets into the property, instead simply stating they are not permitted, then the clause in the agreement will not be enforceable and the tenant may be permitted to stay in the rental.

However, if the agreed tenancy period has expired then the landlord is able to serve the tenant with a Section 21 notice, giving them 2 months’ notice to vacate the property.  Whilst this is typically the case, under the current global conditions the UK government has implemented a series of precautionary measures to protect renters during the COVID-19 pandemic.  These measures look to extend the amount of notice that must be given to a tenant that is facing eviction, with the minimum notice period being 6 months.

With this being said it would be greatly more beneficial for both parties if an agreement regarding pets was reached, perhaps detailing a new tenancy agreement where the tenant is able to live with the pet, and the landlord is comfortable with the monetary safeguards they have in place.

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