Pets in Rental Properties – Understanding the Best Way Forward
Unraveling government guidance, contractual language and best practice.
Pets. This one word brings forward teary eyed Tenants, their quivering bottom lips asking if they can bring their beloved furry friend with them to their new home. In contrast, Landlords sceptically investigate these requests with obvious trepidation – cats mark their territory, dogs’ nails scuff the hardwood floor, hamsters are the devil’s work. We’ll help to answer some questions and take the emotion out of the “P” word.
Are Landlords Required to Permit Pets in a Rental Property?
The simple answer to this question is: no. There is no law that requires Landlords to accept pets into properties. But, there is current government guidance to help responsible tenants with well-behaved pets will be able to secure leases more easily through the new Model Tenancy Agreement (MTA) announced in January 2021.
The highlights of this new pet guidance are:
Renters must seek written consent from their landlord to keep animals in the property.
It will be presumed that the landlord consents to the keeping of a pet where the landlord does not reply in writing within 28 days of receiving the request (unless there is good reason)
A landlord cannot ‘unreasonably withhold or delay’ consent
The landlord should accept requests where they are satisfied that the Tenant is a responsible pet owner and the property is suitable (notice should, not must)
Landlords are prohibited from charging a fee for the keeping of pets but may demand a higher deposit (provided this does not breach the 5-week tenancy deposit cap in the Tenant Fee Act 2019).
Remember, the model tenancy agreement is an entirely optional document to follow: there is no legal requirement to use it when contracting.
What is best practice when it comes to furry friends?
Over 50% of adults in the United Kingdom own a pet. As a Landlord, failing to consider those with a furry or feathered friend will, inevitably, limit your available tenant pool.
Our advice is simple: be reasonable. One of the main goals Landlords should have, which we feel is frequently overlooked, is to help tenants to make a home. We encourage our Landlords to think about the kind of Tenants that they want to pair to their property – put themselves in their shoes.
Accepting pets is not a licence for Tenants to return a property chewed, scratched and smelly. It’s a signal from Landlords to Tenants that they understand who they are and what their “family” looks like. When the tenancy ends, Tenants are still required to return the property to the Landlord in the same condition it was received.
Many Landlords ask us if they can increase the security deposit to cover any damage; as we mention above, the answer is no. There is a five week cap on security deposits. But, Landlords can increase the rent itself, should they like. Actually, this practice seems to be one that is most acceptable to Landlords and Tenants – we see it employed in properties all over London.
We also recommend inserting a specific Pet Clause into the lease, like:
It is further agreed between the Landlord and Tenant that the Landlord grants permission for the Tenant to keep a Pet in The Property for the duration of the Tenancy. The Tenant agrees not to keep or permit to be kept on the Property any further pets or animals of any description without the previous consent in writing of the Landlord. . .
Keep in mind, Tenants always need permission to keep a pet, which brings us to our next point.
What happens if Tenant Keep a Pet without Permission?
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 prevents “unfair terms” being interjected into a contract. This would include a blanket ban on keeping pets in rental property; such a clause could be struck out if challenged in court.
As such, most Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreements have a Pet Clause in them, like:
Not keep any cat, dog, bird or other pet at the Premises without the Landlord’s written consent, such consent, if granted, to be revocable at will by the Landlord upon giving reasonable written notice. . .
If Tenants decide to circumvent this clause and keep a pet without the Landlord’s permission then it could lead to serious consequences. A modest response from a Landlord could be to ask the Tenants to rehome the pet or, at worst, this action could lead to a Landlord seeking an eviction, using a Section 8 Notice. A judge would then need to make a determination if the Section 8 is warranted, with Landlords (most likely) needing to show that the pet has caused damage to the property or is an observable, daily nuisance.
What about Service Dogs – do they fall under the “no pets” clause?
Under the Equality Act of 2010, it is against the law for service providers, including landlords, rental agencies and housing associations to treat disabled people less favourably because of their disability, or because they rely on an assistance dog or guide dog.
There is no register or certification process for assistance dogs in the UK. Whilst all assistance dogs trained by members of ADUK are issued an ADUK Identification Booklet, not all assistance dog owners have papers or ID, nor do they require ID by law.
Service dogs are not pets to be captured by a ‘no pets’ rule- they are there to provide assistance and support and therefore, by law, cannot be refused. Please note, “emotional support pets” are not considered to be service animals.
In our experience, most Tenants who are pet owners are responsible people. They’re not looking to incur huge charges at the end of a tenancy, because of damage, that would see their security deposits garnished.
We encourage both parties to talk freely about their requirements and see if a mutual agreement can be reached. If you need it, Heyworth Gordon can help with negotiation and contract assembly – please just find us for a chat about your requirements.