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As a landlord, choosing a tenant is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. To make the right choice, you’ll need to weigh up factors like affordability, credit checks and references from previous landlords.
But should you consider tenants with pets? And what should you do if your current tenant wants to move a four-legged friend into their home?
Here are a few things to consider – and some tips for taking the next steps.
How many people are looking for pet-friendly properties?
Demand for pet-friendly properties has soared since the so-called ‘pandemic pet boom’, when an additional 3.2 million households gained a furry family member.
Rightmove saw ‘pet friendly/pets allowed’ become the most popular search criteria on their platform – increasing by a staggering 120% to out-rank terms like ‘balcony’, ‘garden’, ‘furnished’ and ‘garage’.
But despite this huge surge in pet ownership, it’s estimated that less than 10% of landlords welcome pets into their properties. And due to this imbalance between demand and supply of pet-friendly lets, it can be extremely difficult for pet-owners to find suitable rental housing.
Why are landlords wary of renting to people with pets?
According to a YouGov survey conducted on behalf of Dogs Trust and Cats Protection, 33% of private landlords who don’t currently allow pets say nothing would persuade them to. But why exactly are so many landlords so reluctant to allow pets?
The most obvious concern is the possibility of damage to both the property and the furnishings within it – even the most well-behaved pets carry the risk of scratching wooden floors, chewing furniture or mistaking a carpet for their bathroom.
If you have a tenancy agreement in place, your tenant will be contractually obliged to cover the cost of any damage caused by their pets. But arranging repairs and replacements can involve a lot of time and effort – and uncooperative tenants can make it even more difficult to set things right.
Another common concern is the impact on neighbours, who are often less than happy about loud noises or owners that don’t clean up after their pets.
Why should landlords consider tenants with pets?
While there are several legitimate reasons to be wary of animals in your property, many landlords overestimate the risks that come with allowing pets.
According to the same YouGov survey, 73% of landlords who have allowed pets have experienced no problems at all, while just 20-21% of cases resulted in property damage.
What’s more, with high demand but low supply of pet-friendly rental homes, allowing pets could be a smart decision that works in your favour as a landlord.
Firstly, it gives you access to a much wider pool of prospective tenants. Secondly, you may be able to charge more – but make sure you read on to find out how to do this legally. And finally, with so few options out there, tenants are likely to want to stay longer and commit to lengthier tenancies.
It’s also worth noting that many tenants will get a pet in secret, regardless of what their contract says – with recent research showing that one in 10 tenants are currently hiding pets from their landlords. So even if a tenant appears to be pet-free, there’s no guarantee that you won’t end up with an animal in your property.
Being open to pets allows you and your tenants to have more upfront and honest conversations about your expectations and their responsibilities – which can be beneficial for both the people and animals involved.
What does the law say about pets in rental properties?
When it comes to pets, there are a few laws in place to protect both tenants’ and landlords’ rights – but what’s allowed often comes down to what’s in your rental contract.
The model AST agreement
The government offers a model agreement for shorthold assured tenancies, the most common type of tenancy in the UK. In 2021, the government updated this model tenancy agreement to make it easier for pet owners to secure leases.
Encouraging landlords to move away from a ‘blanket ban’ on pets, the new model agreement allows pets by default. A landlord can only say no to a pet if they have a good enough reason, and they will need to object in writing within 28 days of receiving a written request from their tenant.
Under the new agreement, tenants continue to have a legal duty to repair or cover the cost of any damage caused by their pet.
Other rental contracts
While the government’s model agreement allows pets by default, landlords are under no obligation to use it – so your contract might say something else.
Some tenancy agreements may say that pets aren’t allowed. But this might not hold up in court. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 prohibits ‘unfair terms’ in a contract, so if a judge decides that there’s no good reason to ban pets, they could ‘strike out’ this part of your contract.
And if a tenancy agreement doesn’t mention pets at all, landlords could find it difficult to argue that pets aren’t allowed.
Fees, rent and deposits
Legally, you can’t charge tenants a one-off fee for keeping a pet. But you may be able to ask for a higher deposit or increase the rent – as long as you stick to the relevant laws and guidelines.
If you want to increase a tenant’s deposit, you’ll need to make sure that you remain compliant with the Tenant Fees Act 2019, which caps deposits at five weeks’ rent (or six weeks’ if the total annual rent is £50,000 or more). If you’ve already charged the maximum deposit, you can’t ask for more.
Since the Tenant Fees Act was introduced, many landlords have looked for alternative ways to cover potential financial losses – and a common option is to charge so-called ‘pet-rent’.
Government guidelines say that rent increases ‘must be fair and realistic’, and you can only increase the rent if your tenant agrees or at the end of a fixed term.
The Renters' Reform Bill
First discussed in 2019, the Renters’ Reform Bill proposes a number of changes to the UK’s private rental sector. These changes are designed to make sure that tenants are treated more fairly, and would include rules that ‘ensure landlords do not unreasonably withhold consent when a tenant requests to have a pet in their home.’
But many questions remain about how this would work in practice and when exactly these changes might come into force – although many people expect the bill to be discussed within the current parliamentary session, which is due to end in autumn 2023.
On 21 April 2023, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said:
We will legislate to give tenants in the private rented sector a legal ‘right to request a pet’ that the landlord must consider and cannot unreasonably refuse.
We know that some landlords are concerned about the potential damage caused by pets, so we will also allow landlords to require insurance covering pet damage.
We will legislate in the Renters Reform Bill when parliamentary time allows.
When the bill has been passed, landlords will need to comply with the new legislation – which will be compulsory unlike the current guidelines.
How to decline a pet
Until the Renters' Reform Bill comes into play, landlords are well within their rights to favour pet-free applicants or decline a current tenant’s request for a pet – unless their rental agreement says otherwise. But whatever your contract says, it’s highly recommended that you follow the government’s guidelines and approach it in the right way.
To say no to a pet, make sure that you:
- Send a written objection
- Respond within 28 days of a tenant’s written pet request
- Provide a good reason. This could be because the property doesn’t provide enough space for the specific breed or animal, because a neighbour or the property owner has a severe allergy, or because the head lease doesn’t allow pets.
But if you say no a current tenant's request for a pet, you should be prepared for them to move on and look for an alternative, pet-friendly place to live.
And if you’ve been happy with the tenant up until this point, you’ll need to weigh up whether it’s worth losing a good tenant and going through the process of putting your property back on the market.
How to accept a pet
If you’re inclined to accept a tenant's pet, you should take a few precautions to protect your property and keep everyone happy.
Update your contract
It's a good idea to have written confirmation of which types of animals can live in your property and the terms and conditions your tenant must meet in order to keep a pet.
For new tenants, you should consider adding a pet clause to your tenancy agreement. For current tenants, you can add the clause as an addendum to your existing contract. And you may want to consider supplementing your pet clause with a longer, more detailed pet policy.
Dogs Trust and Cats Protection have example pet clauses and pet policies that you can use as a foundation.
Consider pet references
It’s pretty standard to get references for your human tenants, and many landlords ask for references for their four-legged tenants as well.
A pet reference can give you peace of mind that the pet is well-behaved and won’t cause any issues – and gives you another source of reassurance beyond your tenant’s word.
If the tenant has previously lived in a rental property with their pet, you could ask their landlord or letting agent for a reference. If not, you could ask for a reference from a vet.
You’ll want to ask enough questions to get a good idea of the animal’s behaviour and temperament, as well as the owner’s level of responsibility.
Assess your rent and deposit
Your tenant is ultimately responsible for covering any pet-related costs. But you may want to consider adjusting your rent and deposit to provide a bit of a buffer in case your tenant fails to meet their contractual obligations.
As mentioned, there are strict rules about how much you can charge for a deposit, and any rent increases must be ‘fair and realistic’. The Tenancy Deposit Scheme suggests setting ‘pet rent’ at around £15 to £25 per month.
Think about insurance
Even if you adjust your rent or deposit to cover potential financial losses, insurance can give you further peace of mind that you won’t be left footing any expensive, unexpected bills.
Many landlord insurance policies exclude damage caused by pets, so it’s not uncommon for landlords to ask their tenants to get their own insurance – and it's likely that the Renters' Reform Bill will specifically state that insurance can be a condition of allowing pets.
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