The government has proposed new legislation to allow more UK tenants to keep pets in rented accommodation. In a major shake-up of the buy-to-let laws, the Fairer Private Rented Sector’s White Paper suggests tenants should have the right to ask their landlord for permission to keep an animal. Landlords would be legally required to consider the request and must not refuse for “unreasonable reasons”.
The White Paper aims to give tenants more rights to keep their pets if they move house, rather than making the heartbreaking decision to give them up.
Where does the pet legislation apply?
Three-quarters of renters in the UK either own a pet already, or hope to do so in the future, according to surveys.
Proposals set out in the White Paper specifically relate to tenants in England, although the RSPCA is pressing for the Welsh government to adopt similar legislation to help tenants with dogs, cats and other animals.
The animal charity claims Wales isn’t pet-friendly for tenants. However, the Welsh government is yet to introduce model tenancy agreements that discourage a blanket ban on pet ownership.
In Scotland, tenants must get written permission to have a pet and their request is solely at the landlord’s discretion. The Model Tenancy Agreement was updated in 2021 to remove a blanket ban on pets from standard contracts.
However, there isn’t a legal requirement for landlords in Scotland to use the MTA for tenants. The clause in the standard contract states a tenant shouldn’t keep any animals in the rented property without their landlord’s prior written consent.
In Northern Ireland, the legislation is similar to that in Scotland. A new Model Tenancy Agreement that is “recommended” by the government states landlords can no longer issue a blanket ban on pets for no reason. However, it is down to the landlord’s discretion whether a tenant is permitted to have an animal.
How many British landlords advertise pet friendly properties?
Currently, only 7% of UK landlords advertise their properties as being pet-friendly. Critics say that in a nation of animal lovers, this is completely unsatisfactory. It is a marginal improvement from research carried out in 2020, which revealed only 4% of UK landlords were happy to accept tenants with pets.
On 28th January 2021, Housing Minister, the Rt Hon Christopher Pincher MP, announced a new Model Tenancy Agreement discouraging landlords from banning pets for no reason, However, despite the MTA, 45% of UK landlords won’t allow tenants to have a pet.
Consequently, tenants with pets find it harder to locate rental properties that allow their four-legged friends to move in too. People who need to move for their job, to downsize, or for any other reason may face rehoming their pet.
Currently, there is no statutory right for tenants to keep their pets. The current government advice suggests a pet clause can be introduced as an extra in the standard contract. The question is, should landlords be allowing pets into their buy-to-let properties? While one viewpoint is that pets, especially dogs and cats, can cause damage to homes, critics of the ban say landlords are missing out on thousands of reliable tenants by enforcing it.
There’s no denying that some pets may increase the risk of damage to the landlord’s property, including the furniture. However, 51% of adults in the UK currently own a pet, according to the PDSA, so preventing tenants with pets from renting your property may not be feasible.
What are the benefits of tenants with pets?
Isolation and loneliness often come under the spotlight, especially among older people, or those who are feeling the effects of the economic crisis and can’t afford to go out socialising.
Research shows pet ownership can improve our mental and physical wellbeing, meaning tenants with animals are likely to feel more settled and happier in their home – they will be less likely to leave, so the landlord will be unlikely to have a fast turnover of tenants.
A landlord who permits tenants to have pets can impose added conditions on the tenancy agreement, such as the tenant being financially responsible for any damage caused by their four-legged friends.
In return, tenants who find a landlord willing to accommodate their animal companions stay longer in tenancies, according to research. This means the landlord will be less likely to have periods when their properties are empty and therefore losing income.
As long as the tenancy conditions are clear, a responsible pet owner who understands and adheres to the additional pet clauses can be an ideal tenant.
Are landlords missing out on good tenants by not allowing pets?
Tenants with pets will not want to jeopardise their tenancy due to the problems of finding a new home where animals are allowed, so they are likely to be model tenants, according to Tenancy Deposit Scheme Northern Ireland.
The landlord should prepare to deal with pets in their property by drawing up a few simple additions to the standard tenancy agreement. You can also charge a higher rent if pets are allowed, although it must still be reasonable.
When allowing a pet in the property, the tenancy agreement should state the tenant’s responsibilities. There is a standard expectation that the property will be returned to its original condition at the beginning of the tenancy if the tenant decides to move out. The agreement should allow for regular wear and tear, but the property should be cleaned to an acceptable standard when the tenancy ends, for example.
Having specific clauses means there is no room for dispute over the responsibilities – or whether the landlord is being reasonable to deduct money from the deposit to cover any pet-related damage.
Tenants’ pet insurance plans
The changes proposed in the White Paper come under the government’s general plan to improve renters’ lives. It will also be made easier for landlords to accept pets due to a proposed amendment in the Tenant Fees Act 2019 that would permit landlords to require pet insurance to cover any damage to their property.
Two prominent UK charities, the Dogs’ Trust and Cats’ Protection, launched a campaign in February 2023 urging the government to provide more legal protection for renters with pets: the Dogs’ Trust says 10% of its calls relate to renters having to rehome their dogs because the landlord won’t allow them on the premises; Cats’ Protection said it took in 1,300 cats in 2022 as a result of landlords not permitting tenants to keep them.
The government White Paper concludes that domestic pets can bring “joy, happiness and comfort” to their owners and suggests mental health and wellbeing should be supported through these “challenging times”.