Pet in rental properties

Pets in rental properties – update for London landlords

The pandemic has led to a large spike in pet ownership. Particularly among single – person households looking for company. Also for families finally caving in to their children’s demands for a dog.

But this increased ownership and desire for pets has caused something of a storm in the private rented sector. Indeed, the majority of landlords don’t currently allow for pets in lets.

There are many valid reasons for this. Including potential issues with damage, noise pollution, mess and potentially anti-social behaviour. Equally, there is desire from many tenants to have a pet in their home. They may be willing to pay more rent to make this so. Landlords are also likely to increase their pool of potential tenants by taking a more lenient approach.

There has been a push from government, vets and campaigners to make it easier for tenants to keep pets in their rental homes. But what is the current state of play? And where do landlords stand on the issue?

A rising trend

A pet survey carried out in the wake of the first lockdown  found that there had been a ‘staggering rise’ in pet acquisition as a result of the Covid crisis. 

Just over a third (35%) of young adults (those aged 24-35) had already embarked on lives as new pet owners or were planning to add a pet to their families. 2.1 million (19%) had collected a new pet in lockdown. A further 1.8 million (16%) were planning to add a pet to their household. 

The research revealed that Londoners were the most likely to have added a pet to their family. Nearly one in five (18%) of those living in the capital having added a pet and 13% planning to make the change. 

Recent research from March 2021 showed that 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The biggest increase was driven by younger families. Some two-thirds of new owners are aged between 16-34, the millennial and Generation Z demographic that is also most likely to rent.

According to the survey, there are now 34 million pets in the UK. This includes 12 million cats and 12 million dogs, 3.2 million small mammals such as guinea pigs and hamsters, 3 million birds and 1.5 million reptiles. There are also 5 million aquaria. In total, this adds up to 17 million households responsible for a pet’s welfare.

Growing pressure

In an attempt to react to the increasing popularity of pets, the government updated its standard model tenancy agreement template in January to allow renters to keep pets as the default.

At the time, Housing Minister Christopher Pinche said that the alterations would mean landlords will no longer be able to issue blanket bans on pets. Instead, they will be expected to oppose in writing when a tenant asks to keep a pet. A landlord would need a good reason to refuse. For instance, if a home is too small for a pet to be feasible.

The government’s new model tenancy agreement is its recommended contract for landlords. But there is no obligation to use it and most landlords don’t.

Tenants would still, under the new rules, have a legal duty to repair or cover the cost of any damage done to the property.

According to the government’s own figures, just 7% of private landlords advertise pet-friendly properties. This, it says, has led to some renters having to give up their pets.

As well as the changes to the model agreement, there has also been the Dogs and Domestic Animals Accommodation Protection Bill. Introduced to Parliament last year by Conservative MP for Romford, Andrew Rosindell, it proposes to make it a right for tenants to have domestic animals in rental properties.

It has wide cross-party support and public backing, and passed its first reading in the House of Commons comfortably. However, it has been waiting for some time for its second reading. With parliamentary time still at a premium, this could remain some way off. Some even suggest it will never enter law. Most bills introduced under the Ten Minute Rule – which enables backbench MPs to make their case for a new law in only ten minutes – never actually become legislation.

Although the above points, landlords have fought back and the backlash seems to have worked. Pincher, when answering a recent question in the Commons, outlined details on how landlords can, in fact, refuse pets in their rental properties. Even if they are amongst the few landlords that actually use the government’s model tenancy agreement.

“A good reason for a landlord to decline a pet ownership request would be where a pet is demonstrably poorly behaved or unsuited for the premises in question. For example, a large dog in a small flat, or where other tenants have allergies to animals,” he said.

“A private landlord who chooses to use the agreement should accept a request from a tenant to keep pets where they are satisfied the tenant is a responsible pet owner. And the pet is of a kind that is suitable in relation to the nature of the premises at which it will be kept,” he added.

“It aims to remove restrictions on responsible tenants with pets, encouraging landlords who use the agreement to offer greater flexibility in their approach to pet ownership.”

A recent controversial survey by an insurance firm suggested that almost half of landlords welcome the government’s new model tenancy agreement. Only 30% of landlords said they would submit an objection. eEven though only 7% of landlords advertise pet-friendly properties.

The two things don’t really add up. And some criticised for the survey for not providing enough detail and for having too small a sample size.

ARLA Propertymark, the UK’s main trade body for letting agents, responded to the claims made in the Direct Line survey by laying out the main issues at hand and what it is doing to engage with decision-makers on the issue.

For now, little has changed for landlords when it comes to pets and most will continue to not allow them for perfectly understandable reasons. There are no official figures, but it’s believed that most landlords don’t use the model tenancy agreement. Even then, Pincher’s comments suggest a softening of the government’s stance for those who do. There is also little to no prospect of Rosindell’s Bill making it through both Houses anytime soon, if at all.

However, the demand for pets is definitely there. And if you are one of the few willing to allow pets in lets, you could find that you have extra tenant demand. While the Tenant Fees Act 2019 bans landlords from charging a higher security deposit for accepting pets, there is nothing stopping landlords setting a higher rent for this privilege.

This issue is likely to continue to rage on, with claim and counter-claim. But it would appear the shift towards making it much easier to keep pets in rental properties has lost some momentum.

As a landlord, you need to weigh up if the extra risk is worth it. It’s key to work closely with an experienced letting agent. One who can help you to work out if allowing pets is a sensible move.

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Pets in rental properties – update for London landlords
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Pets in rental properties – update for London landlords
Atkinson McLeod explores the latest in the pets in lets debate and where London landlords currently stand.
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Atkinson McLeod
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