Britain has long prided itself as a nation of animal lovers and estimated 34% of UK households now have dogs and a further 28% have cats. Yet, according to government data, only 7% of landlords currently advertise their properties as allowing renters to have pets. The Renters Reform Bill promises to change this, and make it easier for renters to have pets.
The Renters Reform Bill, published on 17 May, contains provisions which imply a term into all assured tenancies that the tenant may keep a pet if they seek permission in writing from the landlord. This permission can’t be unreasonably withheld.
That’s all well and good, but what does this mean in practice for landlords and renters?
In this blog post, I explore what the Renters Reform Bill says about pets, and how landlords can adapt to this new world, whilst minimising risk. I speak from the position of being a pet-friendly landlord, who has experience of allowing renters to have pets, and share practical tips on how landlords can become pet-friendly. All while managing the undeniable the risk of pet damage.
Renters with pets at a glance
- The Implications of the Renters Reform Bill on Pets
- Why don’t landlords like letting to renters with pets?
- Why should landlords be pet-friendly?
- Pet-friendly model tenancy clause and guidance
- Practical tips to reduce risk from pets
- Final thoughts
The Implications of the Renters Reform Bill on Pets
The Renters Reform Bill, published on 17 May 2023, includes provisions that will give renters the right to ask the landlord to keep a pet. The landlord cannot unreasonably refuse to give consent to the tenant’s request. Although the landlord can ask for insurance, there is no right to ask for a bigger deposit.
How does the tenant ask a landlord for consent to keep a pet?
The Renters Reform Bill says simply that the tenant’s request must be in writing, and “include a description of the pet for which consent is sought”.
The landlord has the right to ask for more information about the pet. If the tenant doesn’t provide the information, they can refuse consent.
Timetable for responding to a request to keep a pet
The landlord must not turn down the request without good reason, and needs to respond within six weeks of the request. The landlord may ask for further information, and will have 7 days from the provision of that information to make a decision.
If the landlord needs to obtain consent from a superior landlord, and this is sought within 6 weeks of the tenant’s request, the landlord will have 7 days to make a decision following the consent or refusal of the superior landlord. If the answer from the superior landlord is no, that is a good reason to refuse consent. (There is no corresponding obligation on the superior landlord in the Bill.)
When would it be reasonable to refuse consent for a pet?
The Renters Reform Bill doesn’t explain what “unreasonably refusing” consent for a pet means, although it does promise to issue guidance.
Reasonableness implies common sense, and taking into account all of the relevant circumstances. Here are some examples that seem to me to be good reasons to refuse a pet from a common sense perspective:
- The breed or type of pet is not suitable for the property, eg a doberman in a studio flat.
- The property is unsuitable.
- Pets in HMOs.
- The landlord or their family are allergic to the type of pet requested.
- There is already one or more pets at the property, and additional one would be too much for the property.
- Unsatisfactory pet reference from a previous landlord.
- Good grounds to believe the pet would cause more damage than reasonable wear and tear.
What if the landlord says no to pets?
If the landlord turns down a request for pets, and the tenant feels this was unreasonable, they will be able to complain to the Private Rented Sector Ombudsman, or take the landlord to court. As the Ombudsman is free for tenants to use, this is likely to be the preferred route.
The Ombudsman (or court) will decide whether or not the landlord should agree to allow the tenant to have a pet, based on the evidence that both parties provide.
It’s therefore important that the landlord compiles evidence to support their reason.
The Renters Reform Bill doesn’t include any detail on the PRS Ombudsman at present, but the government guidance says it will be “mandatory for landlords to comply with any decision of the Ombudsman”. Failure to comply may lead to the landlord being expelled from the Ombudsman until they do so, and “eligible for enforcement action from their local council”. This can lead to a fine of £5,000, and the fine for repeated breaches is up to £30,000. The guidance says they could face criminal prosecution and a banning order.
Landlords will be able to require renters to take out pet insurance to cover any damage to their property. They can also ask the renter to reimburse them if the landlord prefers to take it out themselves.
It’s unclear how this will work in practice. For instance, will it be like car insurance, with insurance premiums increasing with previous claims? Why would a landlord take out pet insurance if a claim on one property would put premiums up on other properties?
In any event, more guidance will be issued by the government. I’ll be sure to update this blog post when it does.
Increasing the rent?
There is nothing in the Renters Reform Bill that says a landlord cannot increase the rent to take account of the extra wear and tear caused by a pet. This is fairly common now.
However, the rent should not be above the market value for a similar property in the area as it could be challenged in a First-tier Rent tribunal.
Why don’t landlords like letting to renters with pets?
Few landlords would disagree with the following from the White Paper, A Fairer Private Rented Sector: “pets can bring joy, happiness, and comfort to their owners, as well as supporting their mental and physical wellbeing including through challenging times”. Yet this is something that is subject to cognitive dissonance on the part of landlords.
I was the same. When I first started out as a landlord, I had a blanket no pets policy. I love dogs, and we had two labradors when our children were growing up. I saw myself the special bond between children and dogs, and think it’s wonderful for children to have pets.
However, perhaps it’s my own experience of having dogs that made me reluctant to allow pets in my buy to lets. For instance, the huge amounts of hair that yellow labradors shed all year round. That lingering smell, and the damage they caused when they were puppies. And don’t get me started on the damage cats can do.
Pets can be very destructive. With the current limit on deposits at 5 weeks’ rent, and the fact that pets can easily do more damage than this, it’s clearly a risk for landlords to take on renters with pets. It has simply been easier to choose renters who don’t have pets, and then “just” have the normal wear and tear risks.
Some pets are badly behaved. We all know of yappy dogs that don’t stop barking. Some dogs even howl when they’re left alone. This can make relations with neighbours fraught. If they are not treated regularly, dogs and cats can carry fleas and mites, which can be challenging to eradicate from carpets. Accepting pets may also make it difficult to rent the property to anyone with allergies at a later date.
Another reason for landlords not allowing pets includes the property being too small, especially flats without an outdoor space. It can also be problematic for renters in HMOs to have pets, or to accept them in short term holiday lets, because of the risk of fleas or guests with allergies.
Finally, for rental properties that are flats, sometimes the head lease with the freeholder actually prohibits pets, or requires consent. Under the Renters Reform Bill, if the superior landlord refuses consent, the landlord is entitled to refuse consent.
Why should landlords be pet-friendly?
There’s a lot of concern among landlords about the new rules about pets in the Renters Reform Bill, but there are definite benefits to landlords in allowing them. I personally do allow renters to have pets in my properties.
First of all, landlords are giving their renters the opportunity to live in their property with a pet, which will be good for the mental health of the renters’ and their children. It’s part of being a good, socially responsible landlord. If your property is suitable, it’s the right thing to do. Read more about being a good landlord in my blog post.
Next, because so few rental properties are officially pet-friendly at the moment, it increases demand from renters with pets for the property.
Likewise, renters with pets tend to stay longer, which is great from a management time perspective. It avoids all the work that goes into preparing a property for new renters, each time a tenancy comes to an end. Also, reducing voids increases total returns.
Lastly, because of the increased demand, and to recognise the greater wear and tear, it’s usually possible to charge a little more for rental properties where pets are welcomed.
Pet-friendly model tenancy clause and guidance
In 2021, the Government published a new Model Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement, which is useful for landlords to read. It contains the following clause on renters keeping pets:
A Tenant must seek the prior written consent of the Landlord should they wish to keep pets or other animals at the Property. A Landlord must not unreasonably withhold or delay a written request from a Tenant without considering the request on its own merits. The Landlord should accept such a request 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. Consent is deemed to be granted unless the written request is turned down by a Landlord with good reason in writing within 28 days of receiving the request. A Landlord is prohibited from charging a fee to a Tenant who wishes to keep pets or other animals at the Property. Permission may be given on the condition that the Tenant pays an additional reasonable amount towards the deposit, but the deposit must not breach the deposit cap requirements under the Tenant Fees Act 2019.Model pet clause for tenancy agreement (Jan 2020, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)
Here are key points to flag about the model pet clause for tenancy agreements:
- Renters must seek their landlord’s prior written consent if they wish to keep pets or other animals at the property. There is no automatic right for renters to have pets.
- Landlords must respond within a reasonable time to their renter’s request.
- Landlords need to consider the request “on its own merits”.
- So long as the landlord is satisfied the tenant is “a responsible pet owner” and the “pet is of a kind that is suitable” for the property, they must give consent.
The guidance makes a few additional useful comments. Firstly, responsible pet owners should use best efforts to ensure their pet isn’t a nuisance to neighbours. Secondly, they need to ensure their pet doesn’t cause “undue damage” to the property. Thirdly, landlords should only turn down a request if there is a “good reason”. The guidance gives two examples: “large pets in smaller properties or flats” or where it could be “impractical” to have a pet.
As well as having specific clauses about pets in your tenancy agreement, it’s a good idea to have a pet policy which makes your approach clear. The model pet policy from Lets with Pets is an excellent example of a simple pet policy that landlords can adapt. I think it’s entirely reasonable to ask tenants with pets to do a professional deep clean of the property, including the carpets, at the end of the tenancy. If the tenants pay for this, it frees up the rest of the deposit in the event of damage.
Practical tips to reduce risk from pets
Once you’ve decided to become pet-friendly in principle (or you have to once the Bil comes into effect), how can you reduce the risk of damage to your property?
The most important thing is not to say you welcome all pets but, like the model clause above, that you’ll consider pets. This is what the new law’s likely to say, and means you can decide on a case-by-case basis.
Tips to assess suitability
One of the first considerations is size; the size of the pet and the size of the property. Is there enough room for the renters and their pet? A large dog in a small flat might not be practical.
It’s a good idea to ask to meet the dog (it’s trickier for a cat). Ask them to invite you to their current home so you can see for yourself. These are the sorts of things I’d look for:
- How does the dog respond in the garden?
- Is the dog aggressive?
- What’s the state of the garden?
- Is there a scratch pole for the cat?
- Does the dog have a crate?
- Take a deep breath – does the property smell?
- What’s the condition of the woodwork and carpet?
- How clean is the property?
- Is the dog friendly? Does it bark a lot?
If they have a cat, do they need a cat flap? Who will pay for it? Is it even practical in your property? Are they trained to use a cat litter tray? Do they have scratch posts?
If a visit isn’t practical you could ask to see photos of the pet. (I did this when my renters were moving to the UK from abroad).
Also, do ask to have an informal chat to their current landlord, as well as a formal reference that asks specifically about the pet. You’re likely to pick up more from a conversation. Even a pause or the tone of voice might alert you to problems. That said, bear in mind that if they are problem tenants, the landlord might be pleased to see them go!
Reducing the risk
There are a number of ways to reduce the financial risk from allowing pets, and it’s a good idea to include this in a Pet Policy that is annexed to your tenancy agreement. Here is an example of a simple pet policy from Lets with Pets.
At the moment you can’t insist on pet insurance, or ask for a higher deposit, but the Renters Reform Bill will enable landlords to make sure pet insurance is in place.
The tenancy agreement needs to say that the tenant accepts responsibility for the control, care and cleaning of the pet. Also, that they will repair any damage their pet causes. Some landlords also increase the rent for pets, to take account of the extra wear and tear.
It’s sensible to require the tenants to pay for a professional clean at the end of their tenancy. This should include professional carpet cleaning. Consequently, more of the deposit will be left for repairs to any damage, say to woodwork.
It’s vital to have a detailed inventory with clear photos of every part of the property, including the garden. Without this, it may be difficult to prove the condition of the property before the renters moved in.
Lastly, it’s crucial to carry out regular property inspections (at least every six months) when there are pets, to spot early signs of damage. I print out a copy of the inventory and take it with me, just in case I need to point out damage in an area. If you spot problems, you should increase the frequency of inspections. For more tips on managing a smooth end of tenancy check out, take a look at my blog post here.
Accepting pets is not without risk, and many landlords currently prefer not to take on board that risk. Consequently, there’s a lot of resistance to accepting pets.
However, the Renters’ Reform Bill will prevent landlords from having blanket bans on pets when implemented. This is something that landlords will need to adapt to, if their properties are suitable for pets. Landlords need to start thinking how to they will go about accepting pets. Far better to be prepared, and benefit from being pet-friendly in the meantime, than being unprepared!
I’ll update this blog post when the government issues guidance, or if the wording in the Renters Reform Bill is changed.
I have tried several landlord’s and agents not one will allow a cat .that means I can’t move from my relationship and I will not give my cat up so I don’t understand what are we supposed to do plenty of people out take their animals and dump them it’s heartbreaking that a human would do that to a animal .its hard enough trying to live in a house when there is verbal abuse. But can’t leave because landlords need to step up ..
I’m so sorry to hear this. I agree landlords need to step up and be reasonable about accepting pets. I accept pets (within reason) and encourage landlords to do it in this blog post.
Most of my tenants have pets – generally without asking, and I have had mixed issues. I have to say that my concern is always for the welfare and happiness of the animals – not for the wellbeing of the tenant. Tenants get 20 questions about diet, exercise, flea treatment etc. And I do not like dogs in cages.
One tenant had some tropical fish. Also a snake in a glass tank. Tenant was remanded in custody for seven days, during which time his electricity ran out, so the heating went off and the fish and the snake died.
In due course, his two young daughters came to live with him. He bought them a hamster. One day one of the girls left a fluffy hat next to the cage – the hamster chewed it, choked and died.
An elderly tenant (in her 70’s) had two staffies – her grandson had left them when he moved out. They were lovely, friendly dogs and she cared for them well – didn’t take them for walks but she did have a reasonable garden. However, she was quite deaf, so when they wanted to go out for a toilet, she didn’t hear them scratching at the door (they never barked – is that a thing with staffies?) result was that they pee’d on the floor – eventually it literally rotted the floorboards and the supporting timbers underneath. She always wore slippers in the house and didn’t notice the damp. (Or the smell!)
Another tenant had a cat. The double glazed windows are tip’n’tilt. As the cat jumped in and out of the window, it’s claws gradually shredded the seal. I didn’t notice until after they left and I don’t suppose they noticed either.
Another tenant had a dog about the size of Scooby-Doo. As it ran up and down the stairs, it gradually pulled the carpet off the grippers. Had the carpet refitted a couple of times but eventually we had to remove the carpet.
I agree that the welfare and happiness of the animals is paramount.You’ve certainly been through the mill with pets!