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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.  

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Possession: A Quick Guide

An Overview of Possession – service notice on a tenant.

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

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.

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GDPR – What’s All The Fuss?

So, what is GDPR?

The analytical department of WOPT has deduced with great scientific and complete conjectural accuracy that 97.42% of all emails currently received are from companies that you purchased a candle from 12-years ago asking you to stay in touch with them.

This is because In the past when you looked online at something like a lightbulb all relevant and often irrelevant companies were informed through data sharing. The outcome was random emails or pop-ups from ‘Lightbulbs ‘R’ Us’, ‘We buy any old lightbulb.com’ and the life and times of Thomas Eddison. 

Great news for us, GDPR is designed to stop this

GDPR stands for ‘General Data Protection Regulations’, and in a nutshell, it’s the new European wide rules that will ultimately govern what information or data an organisation or individual can hold on other people and how they can ultimately use such information. It prevents companies or individuals from sharing and selling your personal data and browsing preferences.

What does it change for us?

Not much really for our community (landlords and property managers).

You will need to be a little bit more thorough and robust with your data handling, have a think through where and how you store others’ data and what you do with it.

If you are just using the information to run your property empire, then there shouldn’t be any change.  There are five reasons (shown here on our free ‘privacy statement’ template) why you can hold and process data, and they apply to you broadly as follows.

You will receive ‘consent’ to hold and process data on your application forms.

If the applicant is successful, you have a ‘legitimate interest’ to hold and process data about them and their tenancy.

That’s great, but what do I need to do?

Well, like we have just mentioned, you’ll need a privacy policy so it’s not a bad idea to work through our free template here and as you write yours it will show what is needed. 

To make it simple, think about the information you hold and what you do with it.  The RLA has produced an excellent article if you want to get right into the detail.  CLICK HERE

Although you should already be registered, it is important that, if not you now register with the ICO

How does it affect the information I hold?

You will need to be clear about exactly what you are holding, how you are protecting it and how long you keep it for.

The first bit, what you are holding, is fairly straightforward but you may get asked by a client or tenant about what you hold on them.  You have a time limit on getting back to them with this info. Currently this is 30 days.

You then need to make sure you are holding it in GDPR compliant repositories. 

We use cloud data storage, property management software and a referencing company.  All have declared GDPR compliance.

There are also time limits as to how long you hold the data for so have a plan to have a good clear out every now and again.

So thats it! That’s what all the fuss is about?

Well yes and no, our article only covers how the changes will affect us as landlords or property managers, it is far more complicated for larger organisations, but that’s none of our concern here.

We suggest, like we always do at WOPT, to do your due diligence and if you are in any doubt seek further advice. The rules are new and whizzy so no doubt the ‘no-win no-fee’ brigades are looking for an angle.

Be thorough with your business administration – see our article about systemising your business for more ideas. 

Just one final piece of mitigation before we leave you

If you decide to pass on your tenants info to a far eastern prince, who emailed you out of the blue, because he needs this information to get a large ‘tax-free’ cash sum out of his country and into your bank account then we can only wish you the very best of luck, not even the careful guidance of WOPT can save you here!!