Property pets cat dog

What could the Pets Bill mean for tenants & landlords?

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.  

keys in hand

An Overview of Possession – Service notice on a tenant.

* COVID UPDATE (02/2021) – In light of the current CoV-19 situation we strongly suggest seeking professional advice on this matter. However, the bulk of this article is still relevant.

Ok, guys, we will apologise in advance, this isn’t going to be anywhere near entertaining.

Nevertheless, it needs writing, we are going to, for the sake of continuation get straight to the point, avoid our usual satiric approach and simply get down to business!

Shall I, shan’t I?

So, after much deliberation and consideration, you have decided that you would like to take back control of your property.  There could be a multitude of reasons for this; but whether the tenants’ departure is benign or not, the strategy considerations will be broadly the same.

In the next few paragraphs, the intention is to run through strategic choices, touching on the legal procedures.  As ever, if you have any detailed or specific questions, you may need to consult a lawyer.

Carrot or stick?

The best option to get possession of your property is to find a solution agreeable with your tenants.  If you manage to do this, then make sure that you get the agreement in writing as soon as possible. This is normally with either a ‘notice to quit’ or a deed of surrender. 

The difference between them is that a ‘Notice to Quit’ is a unilateral notice from the tenant informing you that they intend to leave whereas the Deed of Surrender is an agreement by the landlord and the tenant to terminate the tenancy, so it can be as flexible as you are.

The main practical differences then are that the Deed of Surrender should be used if the tenancy is still in the fixed term and it can include financial considerations. The Notice to Quit should be aligned with the terms in the tenancy agreement so in theory is less flexible. With either form, once signed the tenant is committed to leaving on the agreed date unless the landlord agrees to a change.

If the tenant makes it known that they intend to be problematic about leaving, then the landlord will need to serve notices and could ultimately require court action and bring in the bailiffs.  These tools should be avoided if possible because they are time-consuming and expensive.

However, if the tenant won’t sign the paperwork then is clear that they do not intend to make possession easy. At this point it is worth mentioning that there are only two legal weighs to end a tenancy, the first mentioned above, voluntary surrender; the second is to obtain a possession order from a court.

What about abandonment? Yes, I know, new rules are in play but we’ll save that for a different article.

Help, I don’t know where to start?

First, you need to understand the difference between Section 21 and Section 8 notices.

A Section 21 notice is the no-fault route. It is designed for scenarios in which the landlord would like to take possession – it could be to move back in, to sell the property etc.  Therefore, it follows the tenancy agreement clauses closely, i.e. two months (periods) notice, it cannot be served to expire within the fixed term, and there is no recovery of monies – other than pro rata rent.  So long as your procedure is correct, the judgement is guaranteed.  

Section 8, on the other hand, stipulates failures (called the grounds for possession) by the tenant to stick to the clauses of the tenancy.  There are currently 17 grounds you can use, be careful some are not mandatory so they will be at the discretion of the judge as to whether you get possession.  It also differs from the Section 21 because you can include monies in the judgement to recover the arrears.

Both routes have a standard form that you need to use, a Form 3 for a Section 8 and a Form 6a for the Section 21.  There are grandfather rules for these forms, so you need to check that you don’t fall foul of them if you are dealing with an old tenancy.  You need to be up to speed with how the notices should be served. 

You can serve both notices and then choose which path to follow at a later date.  However, if you need to go to court, you will need to decide which notice to use and make this extremely clear to the tenant so that they don’t use confusion as a ‘get out of jail free’ card.

However, before you start completing any forms, it is worth checking that you have set up the tenancy correctly, meeting all the legal requirements. 

You should have supplied the following paperwork;  

  • A written Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement
  • The up to date ‘How to Rent’ leaflet.
  • The Deposit Prescribed Information – in the correct format.
  • The property ‘Energy Performance Certificate’.
  • The Gas Safety certificate.
  • Moreover, that you have protected any deposit taken in an approved scheme, if you haven’t done any of these things it would be worth ‘playing catch up’ as soon as possible, the implications for not doing these things is a collapsed court case – expensive, time consuming and avoidable!.

It may be worth mentioning that when you serve notice, it’s a good idea to include the most recent ‘how to rent’ leaflet as it may differ from the one issued at the start of the tenancy. You can download the latest version here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-rent

The notice has expired, but nothing has happened?

If the notice has expired, then you will need to initiate court action.  You complete the paperwork (or do it online) and enclose the evidence.  The court issues you with a date at which you should get a possession judgement granted. 

But the tenants won’t leave?

Then you will need to get the bailiffs to evict them. This requires more paperwork (and money) to book them through the county court. 

You should now have possession of your property.

Final thought.

The best way to protect yourself starts at the beginning of the tenancy.

Get the right tenants and set up the tenancy right.

See our article on finding & keeping the right tenant

 

EPC fail

EPC Changes – What you need to know!

With EPC’s firmly back in the spotlight and with the new regulations approaching we take a close look at what the changes are, what you need to do to comply and how they may affect us as landlords or property managers.

What is an EPC?

Ok, so we are not about to patronise you here and demonstrate the sucking of the proverbial egg. You don’t need to be a property guru to be familiar with the term EPC, but for those who are completely new to the industry and perhaps are not familiar with the term, we will give you our 8-second layman guide to an EPC.

EPC stands for ‘Energy Performance Certificate’ and just like Ronseal it does exactly what it says on the tin, and by that I mean it is an overview of how a particular property performs in relation to energy or rather more accurately how energy efficient the property is.

It has been law to provide tenants with an EPC since the 6th of April 2008 and to clearly show the EPC rating on any property advertised since the 9th of January 2013. The latter has been enforced by the threat of a £200 non-compliance fine, but the new laws which come into effect on 1st April 2018 and 1st April 2020 respectively are set to throw all this wide open and maybe just maybe cause a very small stir for a very small amount of you.

What do the new regulations state?

Here at WOPT our team have been working tirelessly to develop simple ‘no-nonsense’ guide to the changes, and we think we have it here for you, for free, because we care!

Simply read through our list below and see which applies to you to see if there is any action you need to take

  • If the property has a current EPC rating of E or above your activity level, as a result, is that not too dissimilar of a sloth, garden slug or giant tortoise. And for those of you who are not zoologists or are not 100% clear on this, it basically means nothing at all!

Job done!

  • If the property has a current EPC rating of F or G but has a current AST in place, and you have no plans to renew that tenancy, i.e. you are continuing with your rolling contract then again your immediate action levels are that of a sloth, garden slug…… ok, you get the gist! Job done!

However be prepared, you will need to make previsions to get your overall rating improved and up to a rating of E or above by 1st April 2020.

  • If the property has a current EPC rating of F or G but has a current AST like in our example above, BUT you plan to renew this at the end of the term, then the minimum efficiency standards will apply as soon as you renew the contract. It may be worth considering a rolling contract at this point if you are unable to bring the rating up to standard in that time. Remember that this will need to be implemented before 1st April 2020 anyway.

  • If the property has a current EPC rating of F or G and is empty or untenanted, then you will be required to adhere to the new law as of 1st April 2018. This means you either let the property before this time buying you a couple of years grace or you do the inevitable and bring the property up to standard before you rent it.

Somethings to be noted on the above scenarios are:

  1. If the initial fixed term of the AST (shorthold or non-shorthold) comes to an end after the 1st of April 2018 and subsequently falls automatically to a rolling tenancy or a ‘statutory periodic tenancy’  then this is deemed a new contract or new letting for these purposes and the new regulations need to be adhered to.

    An example being, the six months fixed term was started in December 2017, therefore the initial term ends in May 2018, one month after the new laws comes into effect. This would usually mean that the tenancy is an existing tenancy, and would harbour no action. Think again. If the property has an F or G rating, then you need to make previsions to bring the standard up to and E.

    2. This one may confuse or baffle you, BUT there is a loophole that will reflect a very small portion of existing tenancies out there. Like previously mentioned it became law to provide your tenant with an EPC from 6th April 2008, however EPC’s only last 10 years and there is no obligatory requirement to obtain a new EPC if the tenant is still in place.
  • This means that if your property has a rating of F or G, but you are still letting to the same tenant in 2020 (meaning the tenancy is more than 10 years old), then there is no need to obtain a new EPC, therefore no need to adhere to the new regulations. As soon as this tenancy ends, of course, there will be a mandatory requirement to bring the property up to specification before you either re-let or sell the property. As far as we are aware, there are no plans to close this loophole.

Note: here at WOPT  we believe in responsible letting so even in the case of the above we would always recommend that the property is brought well in line with the required standards. 

Flats, Bedsits and HMO’s

Self-contained units such as flats need their own EPC. Even if the building has its own obligatory EPC, then it is the individual flats, not the building’s certificate that needs to be issued to show that the minimum standard has been met.

This one could open a can of worms so I am going to keep it light and general so as not get roped into the whole S21 argument. 

So IN GENERAL, non-self-contained units such as some bedsits or HMO’s do not need their own EPC, however, if the property has an obligatory EPC, like in the case it has been sold or bought since it became law to provide EPC’s with the sale AND this EPC is current then, yes you guessed it, the minimum standards do apply, until of course, the EPC runs out!

Exemptions to the rule

Ok, so there are some exemptions to the rule. Listed buildings, devaluation of the property, unable to gain consent, cost-effectiveness and even a six-month grace for new landlords, but if you feel that you may be mitigated because of one of the above you should seek further advice.

In general

Be warned that non-compliance can carry hefty fines of up to £4000

The Government has declared its wish to raise these standards further, such that the minimum standard is likely to rise to a D rating and a C Rating in 2030.

To see if your property has a valid EPC certificate and to see its current rating, simply accept the terms and input the relevant postcode into the following link online EPC register