Following the recent White Paper for the Renters Reform Bill, and the proposed new rules for tenants being allowed to keep pets in rental properties, we thought it was a good idea to look at the current position on pets, what is allowed, what is not and try to debunk some rather misleading headlines on the topic.
Man’s best friend is not always a landlord’s best friend. Many landlords would much prefer to avoid tenant’s keeping pets in properties due to the increased risk of damage to the property and potential nuisance to neighbours. This coupled with the restrictions to the amount of security deposit that can be taken for an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) means that this stance from landlords can make sense. This blog will not be looking at the veracity of these beliefs but instead we will look at the current position with regards to pets so that landlords, letting agents and tenants alike know what rights they have. I will also not be addressing animals such as service dogs. Clearly any disability that requires the keeping of a pet will change the position significantly because Equality Act considerations and reasonable adjustments that would need to be taken into account.
The Model Tenancy Agreement
As some of you may be aware, the government produces a model tenancy agreement that can be used for a number of residential tenancies. With the increased demand for pets and the lack of available rented properties advertised as being ‘pet friendly’ there were revisions made to this model tenancy agreement in January 2021. At the time the research conducted found that only 7% of private landlords advertised their properties as pet friendly. Therefore the new standard tenancy agreement makes it easier for tenants with pets to find rented accommodation, with Landlords using the revised model tenancy agreement encouraged to no longer issue a blanket ban on pets.
Whilst this is a step forward in tenant’s rights, the model tenancy agreement is not a mandatory prescribed form. Landlords and letting agents will often use and are free to use their own agreement which will contain very different clauses. Equally, in my experience if any person is only ‘encouraged’ to act a certain way, the take up in that action tends to be less enthusiastic unless there is a motive or incentive for that person. This incentive may be financial but equally could be ethical or moral and so whilst this is a recommendation or a request, there will naturally be less of a take up.
The Current Position
This model tenancy agreement change has resulted in a lot of reporting of an existing ban, but this is not the case currently. Despite discussions about a blanket ban on landlords refusing tenant’s request to keep a pet in a property (recently in Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation and Protection) Bill – England), there is no current legislative restriction in England. This is clearly something that the government are considering when you take account of changes to the model tenancy agreement, the private members bill referred to above and now the recent white paper for the Renters Reform Bill. However it is not an easy thing to legislate for. Different properties create different problems for pets. Some properties may be entirely unsuitable, some landlords may be subject to a head lease which bans pets, neighbours/roommates may have allergies etc. There are any number of reasons why a property may not be suitable for a pet and whilst these reasons exist, having a one size fits all piece of legislation covering the topic will be difficult.
With this topic, it is going to be important not to jump to conclusions on this before we see the wording of the actual bill and eventual final legislation. There have already been a number of articles on the topic citing headlines along the lines of … Landlords banned from refusing pets. Obviously this is the type of title that will attract attention and questions from incoming and existing tenants. However, as is often the case with headlines, this extracts the nuance. The proposal is for a ban on unreasonable refusal not an overall ban. Many landlords may have good grounds to refuse pets in properties and the right to do so looks like it will be protected in the upcoming legislation. Equally, the legislation is still some time away from becoming binding on landlords and agents. The bill itself needs to be drafted and debate through parliament will be required before that.
Whilst there is no current legislative protection for tenants (although this is likely to change as set out above), some will try to rely on current blanket bans on pets without good reason being inherently unfair and therefore unenforceable. Tenants have a right to a home life which could be interpreted as enabling them to keep pets subject to meeting reasonable demands. This is why there is fairly standard wording in most ASTs citing a restriction in the keeping of a pet ‘….without the landlords consent which will not be unreasonably withheld’. Enforcement of these provisions when a landlord unreasonably refuses or fails to give a reason is sparse given the inherent lack of security for tenant occupying under and AST. Whilst a section 21 notice can be served without giving reason, it will always give the landlord power in negotiations. Perhaps this will change following the prohibition of section 21 notices. This coupled with a legislative prohibition of unreasonable refusal may offer the protection that the tenants are looking for including greater powers to challenge the landlord’s decision making process.
I mentioned earlier in this article that change tends not to be quick without an incentive or absolute obligation. Potentially this incentive for landlords comes from the tenant’s own decisions in what is important to them. If tenants decide that having a pet is more important to them that a roomy kitchen or a newly re-decorated bathroom, then the incentive to the landlord is clear. There will be more demand for their properties if pets are allowed.
This was further investigated in a tenant survey carried out by the DPS who concluded that the most common reason for a tenant’s decision to move was to find a landlord willing to accept a pet with 30% of those surveyed indicating that it was the determining factor in their decision. It is not only getting tenants but retaining a tenant that is important and this may require some level of flexibility on the part of the landlord.
Allowing pets in a property is not ever going to be without risk but if values of tenants are changing, even if the proposed legislation will not create an absolute entitlement for tenants, pets should be very much in any landlord’s thought process.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.