What does the government’s new stance on pets mean for tenants and landlords?
Despite being a constant threat to Zoom meetings, pets have provided a valuable lifeline during the Covid-19 pandemic; they are known to decrease anxiety, save us from loneliness and help establish daily routines. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that The Kennel Club has reported a 180% increase in enquiries from potential dog owners, and visits to the puppy fostering pages of the RSPCA website have soared by 600%.
Pet ownership in privately rented properties has, however, never been straightforward. The decision on whether to permit a pet in the property lies entirely with the landlord and, whilst some are very accommodating of their tenants’ requests, others approach the subject with more caution.
So why would a landlord decline a tenant’s request to keep a dog or cat in their home? Usually, it boils down to concerns over increased wear and damage during the tenancy. When a pet is allowed by the landlord, the pet is considered an ‘occupier’ of the property; they will therefore contribute to the fair wear and tear that the landlord must accept is inevitable, for which the tenant must not be held accountable. Many landlords also fear for increased damage over the course of the tenancy and, whilst damage can be attributed to the tenant, the introduction of deposit caps put an end to the practice of additional pet deposits. This has predicated a more cautious approach among many landlords, who feel it sensible to reduce the risk of tenant damages to a minimum.
Another frequently cited reason for declining a pet request is a restrictive covenant in the building’s head lease. An occupier of a property that is subject to a head lease may find that the lease prohibits pets of any kind in the building, usually in an effort to reduce noise complaints between apartments. If this is the case, there is little that a landlord can do to accommodate their tenant’s request.
Pet Consent By Default
Last week, the government updated its standard Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement to give tenants more freedom to keep pets in their properties. It is not a requirement to use the government’s model AST, we at Reside use the ARLA Propertymark tenancy agreement, but it perhaps gives us an insight into the government’s future intentions.
Under the new clause in the government’s tenancy agreement, it is deemed that the landlord has granted permission for pets to be kept at the property, unless they provide the tenant with a good reason why this cannot be permitted within 28 days of receiving such a request:
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.
According to a guidance note, a ‘good reason’ to decline a pet request would be ‘large pets in smaller properties or flats, or otherwise properties where having a pet could be impractical’. These definitions are open to interpretation, and it remains to be seen how the government would define this in law.
On The Agenda
Prior to the last general election, the Labour Party outlined a policy that would give renters a default right to keep a pet. With the Conservative government now adopting a similar stance, albeit currently in a non-binding way, there seems to be cross-party support for the initiative. With the Tenant Reform Bill due to be revisited later in the year, it would be no surprise if the government introduced legislation in line with the recent changes to their model AST, something that was perhaps alluded to by Housing Minister Robert Jenrick when launching the new model tenancy agreement: “I’m overhauling our model tenancy contract to encourage more landlords to consider opening their doors to responsible pet owners. And we will be listening to tenants and landlords to see what more we can do to tackle this issue in a way that is fair to both.”