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What could the Pets Bill mean for tenants & landlords?

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If you’re an adult and you live in Britain then there’s a 50% chance you own a pet or at least know someone who does. And if your aged somewhere between 35-45 you’re three times as likely to rent a house today compared to this time 20 years ago. If this is the case, you’ll need a home you can share with your furry friend.

Renting a home with a pet has traditionally always been frowned upon somewhat with landlords and letting agents reluctant to allow tenants to keep pets in their properties. You can’t blame them to be honest, given the cost of upkeep of their investment and a portfolio to keep afloat it’s just another unnecessary aspect to factor in.

But today we have a new issue with this. Covid-19. Not only is the virus bad enough on its own it’s brought new problems to the table. Animal shelters and charities have reported a huge surge in demand for puppies and kittens during lockdown and with an estimate reaching around 9 million dogs and 10 million cats in Britain it’s now crucial to find long term shelter for humans and their little (or big) furry friends.

The government recently introduced a new model standard tenancy agreement and laws that will make it easier for tenants to move with their pets.

What has the government introduced?

On the 28th of January 2021 the dogs and domestic animals (Accommodation and Protection) bill was brought forward by MP Andrew Rosindell. It’s a welcome change for lonely renters but is it a welcome from landlords?

The Bill has been placed to establish tenants rights to keep dogs and other animals in domestic accommodation under conditional terms.

This is to both protect the landlord’s property and the welfare of animals and that of their owners. Coronavirus has been a pivotal turning point in this change of bill over the last several months. As most people are now working from home, mental health struggles have become a real issue. We can’t ignore the benefits of pets with helping ease anxiety and stress and to provide real companionship at a time when it is most needed.

Why the rules have changed? Is there any benefit?

Pet campaigners claim the private rental market is discriminatory against tenants with four-legged friends. New conditional rules mean landlords will no longer be able to issue a blanket ban on pets. By ‘conditional’ it does however mean tenants don’t have an unconditional right to keep pets in their rental property but it does give a little wiggle room for those stuck for a place to live. There are pros and cons to this however…

Some of the benefits may include:

> Companionship (especially during lockdown)
> Improvement’s in mental health & immunity
> Reduced pressure on the NHS
> Improved and increased pet adoption rates
> General improvements in wellbeing (For pet and owner) 

The flipside of this however may paint a different picture and you have to ask is it worth it?

Some of the drawbacks may be:

> Landlords inflate rent prices
> No real consensus of guidelines for tenants who want to get a pet after they move in, how can they prove it’s well behaved if they don’t yet own the pet?

This could be a real sticking point as it’s highly subjective topic up to a point. And if a landlord doesn’t like pets to begin with, you have a potential problem there. It may be that over-time there exists standardised tests for pet behaviour but that’s whole different discussion for another day.

>There may be increased vetinary charges for certificates to cover indemnity costs.
>Will the bill cover flats? Or houses without gardens etc?

So, what are the new rules exactly?

Before looking at the new we must consider the old – currently and following a recent legislative change in June 2019 a landlord can only charge a deposit of 5 weeks rent preventing them from adding additional charges to a tenant’s deposit.

In most other places in the UK landlords can however request a deposit for pets in addition to a security deposit to cover any potential damages caused from a pet. However very few landlords advertise their property as suitable for pets. In these cases, they most likely included pet clauses in their rental contracts to allow for pets.

So, for over 90 percent of landlords that means, a blanket ban on pets of any kind was included in their contract. If a tenancy agreement included a ban on pets, getting one was reasonable grounds for eviction. This has, in reality, torn families apart, and some have even had to leave their beloved pets behind.

The new rules specify that a tenant can move a pet into a property if it is ‘well-behaved’ (This is a problem right from the get go – because what does ‘well-behaved’ mean what does it look like in the pet world vs the property world? In simpler terms it’s too subjective.)

The government’s aim of removing no-pet clauses from its model tenancy agreement is the focus but it doesn’t seem to go far enough. For a start it’s a voluntary but recommended guideline for landlords to follow it requires pet owners looking to rent to pass a ‘responsible owner ship test’ before they can move in their pet:

This would include:

>Proof of vaccination
>Microchipping the pet
>De-worming and defleaing

And ensuring the pet responds to basic commands – again this is subjective as to what justifies a ‘well behaved pet’ and really opens a can of worms as to the type of pet, age, trainability and so on and for those who want to get a pet after they have moved in where does it leave them?

The bottom line here is tenants won’t have unconditional rights but there is a glimmer of hope for those looking for a home for themselves and their pet.

How will it affect landlords and tenants?

For landlords the drawbacks may continue further; concern over property damages will be the main cause for concern and with this may bring forth a process in which a landlord can object to the pet.

This means more management work and the need to write an objection with 28 days from a pet tenant request. This does leave the landlord in a situation where they will need to give a reason.

The landlord gives an objective reason on a subjective matter, it’s difficult to justify in this case. (Such reasons could be the size of the property isn’t suitable, or that the vicinity of the property isn’t suitable or just the simple fact it’s impractical (think, noise complaints, no garden, high rise flat for example)

So far, the checklist of potential extra work for landlords and letting agents includes:

>Asking for a vet’s written confirmation that a pet has been microchipped and that the animal is registered on a national database
>Checking the tenant has a vet’s confirmation that the pet is vaccinated, spayed/neutered, free of parasites and responsive to basic training commands (in the case of dogs)
>Asking to see proof that a tenant is a ‘responsible owner’
>Assessment of the property to ensure it is suitable for a pet

If the new rules are passed in full for landlord’s it could mean quicker deterioration of their properties and furnishings. It may be a case landlords rethink their layouts or that they don’t provide furnishings at all. For example, fur might cover the property, smells can seep into the carpets and furniture, and scratches may appear on sofas.

In summary

We’ve heard the claim from pet campaigners that the private rental market is discriminatory against tenants with four-legged friends however this has not been the case it was just never required as policy by law so it was always at the discretion of the landlords and we’ll within their rights.

The new rules have changed this and mean landlords will no longer be able to issue a blanket ban on pets.

If as a landlord you object to a tenant having a pet, that rejection should only be made where there is good reason, such as in smaller properties or flats where owning a pet could be impractical. Yes, this may require some additional work and checks on your end but not all hope is lost and if we flip it on its head its actually a good thing.

If we consider the value of more extensive checks, and quality of tenants with pets (generally tend to be more responsible) not to mention the requirements that landlords are protected as tenants will continue to have a legal duty to repair or cover the cost of any damage to the property.

It’s been years in the making but from 28th January 2021 we see the bill in place for the foreseeable future – letting agents and landlords are now compelled by law to accept tenants with pets but as mentioned this isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a change.

 

Davids Comments:

This may come as bad news to some Landlords but let’s not get bogged down with things that are beyond our control. Instead, we should look at the positives of this. We want our properties to become homes for our tenants since this creates longevity in a tenancy. Statistics show that historically, tenancies that allow pets have a longer lifespan.

Besides this new piece of legislation is something us as landlords know about, 90% of tenants won’t know this has been introduced and should they cotton on to the fact, it certainly doesn’t mean they are going to rush out and buy a Long-haired German Shepherd any time soon.  

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