Tenants’ Legal Rights when Renting with Pets

Renting with pets has traditionally been difficult for UK tenants – and despite MPs debating the Renters Reform Bill to change the law, the rules are still far from clear.

In January 2021, Christopher Pincher MP announced a revised Model Tenancy Agreement to discourage landlords from banning pets without a good reason.Renters with a pet      © gpointstudio / Shutterstock

This followed research in 2020 that suggested 93% of private landlords in the UK didn’t offer “pet-friendly” rentals, leaving many tenants suffering the anguish of having to give up their family pets if they had to move home.

The subsequent update to the agreement in 2021 removed the automatic ban on pets from standard contracts. However, almost three years later, there is still confusion over whether landlords can prevent tenants from having animals.


What is the Renters Reform Bill?

The Renters Reform Bill is aimed at clarifying the situation for 11 million tenants and 2.3 million private landlords.

In May this year, the Fairer Private Rented Sector’s White Paper suggested tenants should be empowered to ask their landlord’s permission to keep an animal. The landlord would be required by law to consider the request and must not refuse for “unreasonable reasons”.

Despite the shake-up, however, 45% of landlords surveyed were not happy about having animals in their properties. The main fear is the damage larger animals such as dogs and cats can cause around the home.

The new pet clause is not currently a legal requirement set in stone in tenancy agreements. It suggests tenants should seek the written permission of their landlord to keep animals in the property. Landlords should not “unreasonably delay or withhold” a written request and should give their consent if they consider the tenant to be a “responsible pet owner”.

The landlord should also be satisfied the type of animal is suitable for the particular property. For example, having two Great Dane dogs in a second-floor studio flat would probably not be a good fit.

To support landlords, the amendments suggest they should be allowed to increase the deposit to pay for any damage caused by the pet. However, the deposit still cannot exceed the deposit cap, which is part of the 2019 Tenant Fees Act.

This legislation considers the “default position” to be the landlord giving consent for tenants’ pets. Should the landlord fail to reply to a written request within 28 days, the tenant will be approved for pets automatically.

The Renters Reform Bill aims to cement the amendments and make them law. However, it is currently having a rocky ride through Parliament – with one aspect that called for an end to no fault evictions already being delayed indefinitely.

Now judges are set to be asked to rule on whether a private landlord can “reasonably” deny their tenant’s request to keep a pet. This means a new private renting ombudsman and ultimately the courts will have to decide what is “reasonable”.

This has created what has been described as a “new grey area” in landlord/tenant relations.


Landlords’ reaction to the Bill

Chris Norris, the National Residential Landlords’ Association policy director, feels it is still “unclear” whether a landlord can refuse their tenants’ pets. He is calling for greater clarity from the government on what constitutes reasonable grounds for refusal.

The government has acknowledged there will be some situations where it will be reasonable for a landlord to say no. If the tenant disagrees with the decision, they can take their request to the new property ombudsman to make a decision. This could solve the dispute without having to escalate it further to the courts.

The government has suggested it could be “reasonable” to refuse if the animal was too large for a smaller rental property, or if another tenant in an HMO was allergic to pet hair, for example. However, it added landlords and tenants would be expected to “have a discussion about what is reasonable”.

The Renters Reform Coalition, representing tenants, wants renters to have the right to keep their pets, even if the landlord disagrees. The organisation says once the tenant has signed the agreement, the property is their home, and they should be permitted to keep their animals regardless. However, the RRC agrees the tenants should be liable for the costs if their animals wreck the place.

The government is likely to update the Tenant Fees Act 2019 so pet insurance can be included. This will permit landlords to require tenants to take out insurance to pay for animal related damage at the property. The Bill is still going through the Parliamentary process. Before it becomes law, it must achieve the Royal Assent.

For landlords providing furniture packages for their portfolio, the risk of damage by pets is a very real fear. A survey by MoneySupermarket estimates the annual cost of household damage caused by dogs in the UK is £147 per animal. The main furnishings damaged are carpets at 22%, the settee and rugs and beds.

A survey by the Dogs’ Trust claims 54% of tenants have “never” found a suitable property where the landlord allows dogs. Some renters have been unable to move as a result – 8% had to make the difficult decision to rehome their pet.

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