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Landlord’s guide to renting to tenants with pets

Guide to renting with pets

Whether you are a landlord or a tenant, you may have heard about recent proposals to allow most tenants to keep pets. This is welcome news for pet-owning renters, but it has also raised concerns among many landlords.

In this guide to renting with pets, we look at the suggested changes to the law and what they could mean for landlords and tenants. We also guide you through the existing law relating to tenancies and pets, and how landlords can protect themselves from financial loss due to damage from a tenant’s pet.

Changes to the Model Tenancy Agreement regarding pets

The proposed new rules about keeping pets in rental properties are outlined in a White Paper from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. It is called A fairer private rented sector.

In this publication, the government points to the fact that it has already revised the Model Tenancy Agreement (MTA) “making it easier for tenants with pets to find private landlords who will accept them.” The MTA is the government’s recommended contract for an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) in England. Changes introduced in 2021 meant that landlord permission for pets became the default position in the agreement. As a result, landlords using the contract could not impose a blanket ban on pets and could only reject a request to keep a pet for ‘good reason’. A good reason might include a request to keep a large dog in an unsuitably small flat with no accompanying outside space.

However, there is currently no legal obligation for landlords to use the MTA. As a result, landlords using other tenancy contracts are still free to refuse tenants’ requests for pets.

Scotland has its own Model Tenancy Agreement. This has remained unchanged: tenants may not keep pets without the prior written consent of their landlord. In Wales and Northern Ireland, there are no current Model Tenancy Agreements.

What the new White Paper proposes about pets and rental property

The new White Paper recognises that pet ownership has many benefits, particularly in bringing ‘joy, happiness and comfort to their owners’. Likely influenced by how pets provided many people with companionship during the COVID-19 lockdowns, it also acknowledges that pets support people’s mental and physical wellbeing.

By contrast, the publication points out that the English Private Landlord Survey 2021 found that 45% of landlords were unwilling to let to tenants with pets. This is a key reason why the White Paper proposes the following legislation:

We will give tenants the right to request a pet in their property, which the landlord must consider and cannot unreasonably refuse. We will also amend the Tenant Fees Act 2019 so that landlords can request that their tenants buy pet insurance.

The White Paper does not explain on what grounds a landlord can reasonably refuse to let a tenant keep a pet. Certain exemptions will almost certainly be listed in the final legislation if it becomes law.

More new rules regarding pets and rental properties?

In 2019, Andrew Rossindell MP introduced a Private Members’ Bill in Parliament. It was called the Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation and Protection Bill).

This bill proposed a number of measures, including:

  • Creating a certification system for responsible animal guardianship
  • Giving people with the certificate the right to keep domestic animals in rented or temporary accommodation
  • Allowing landlord exemptions on certain religious or medical grounds, or because accommodation is unsuitable for a domestic animal.

However, the bill did not pass into law. Rossindell is now working with pet advocacy group AdvoCATS to create a second Private Members’ Bill which will take an insurance-based approach.

Currently, the Tenants Fees Act (2019) does not allow landlords to require pet damage insurance as part of a tenancy agreement, nor does it allow property owners to ask for a pet deposit. While the new White Paper proposes that landlords should be allowed to request that tenants buy pet insurance, it does not suggest that being allowed to take a pet deposit will be made legal.

More information on pet deposits

Landlords in England currently cannot ask for a supplementary deposit to cover renting with a pet. Nor can they charge for professional cleaning or de-flea treatments at the end of a tenancy. However, it is worth noting that landlords in England can charge extra rent for having a pet, which can shift a significant cost onto pet owners’ shoulders.

The situation is different in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In these nations, landlords are allowed to ask for a supplementary pet deposit to cover potential pet damage. As with a normal rental deposit, this must be protected in a tenancy deposit scheme.

What other laws concern pets in rental property?

There are already existing laws that concern pet ownership in rental properties. These include the following:

  • Consumer Rights Act 2015. This prohibits ‘unfair terms’ in a contract. As a result, if there is a ‘no pet’ clause in a rental contract, tenants should still be allowed to ask permission to keep pets. In theory, a tenant could challenge a refusal in court if they were able to argue the permission was unreasonably refused.
  • Equality Act 2010. This prevents landlords from directly or indirectly discriminating against people with a disability. In practice this means that, even if they stipulate ‘no pets’ in a rental contract, they must allow a disabled person to keep a guide or assistance dog or animal. Failing to do so could put them in breach of Article 14 of the Human Rights Act (Prohibition of Discrimination).
  • Allotments Act 1950. Changes to this act allow the occupier of any land to keep hens or rabbits, other than by way of trade or business. Essentially, this means that tenants are allowed to keep these animals in their gardens, as long as they are not ‘prejudicial to health or a nuisance or affect the operation of any enactment’.

Campaign to abolish ‘no-pet’ clauses in Wales

Currently, RSPCA Cymru is leading a campaign to abolish ‘no-pet’ clauses in Welsh rental contracts. This is due to be considered by the Petitions Committee of the Welsh Government.

Benefits of renting to tenants with pets

While many landlords are reluctant to rent properties to pet owners, there are benefits to doing so. These include:

  • Higher rental income. In England, landlords can charge extra rent for keeping pets. Many pet-owners are happy to pay extra in return for keeping their animals.
  • More potential tenants. If your properties are pet-friendly you’ll potentially attract a larger number of prospective tenants.
  • Security. Dogs in particular can provide a property with good security, reducing the risk of damage by intruders.
  • Longer tenancies. Given how difficult it is to find pet-friendly properties, tenants with pets are more likely to want to rent from you for longer.

Drawbacks of renting to tenants with pets

It’s also fair to say that there can be a downside to renting a property to pet owners. Common issues include:

  • Damage. Larger pets in particular can cause damage to a property, its fittings, and furnishings.
  • Odours, hair and fur. These can be difficult to eradicate at the end of a tenancy.
  • Allergies. Unless a property is deep cleaned, it may affect future tenants with animal allergies.
  • Property inspections. You may feel that you need to undertake more frequent property inspections, adding to your management tasks.

While some of these problems can take time to put right, they do highlight why it would be beneficial for landlords to take out pet damage insurance while the outcome of any legislation to come from the White Paper is unclear.

Health benefits of pet ownership

Pet ownership has significant health and mental health benefits. For example, research by Anderson and associates in 1992 discovered that pet-owners were significantly less likely to develop coronary heart disease. A study by Serpell in 1991 found that acquiring a dog or a cat reduced the frequency with which people suffered minor ailments. In addition, pet ownership can have major mental health benefits. Studies have found that human-animal interaction can increase levels of oxytocin in the brain, resulting in increased calmness and focus. Many owners also report that their pets help them combat loneliness, depression, and other mental health issues.

Good health and happiness are in the interests of both tenants and landlords. A healthy tenant is less likely to run into medical issues or other problems that could affect their income and ability to pay rent.

Pet damage insurance for tenants

If you are a tenant, your landlord can’t currently require you to have pet damage insurance. However, there are a range of benefits to taking out cover:

  • If you tell a prospective landlord you intend to take out pet damage insurance they may be more willing to accept you as a tenant.
  • You may be able to negotiate a rent reduction if you have pet insurance.
  • The right policy will cover not only the contents provided by your landlord, but also the fixtures and fittings of your rental accommodation.

It’s worth remembering that pet damage insurance will generally only cover sudden or unexpected damage. For example, if your dog damages a wall by pulling down a curtain rail, your policy should cover this. Wear and tear, such as regular scratching at walls and carpets will not be covered, so the better trained your pet the better! Pet damage insurance from Alan Boswell Group is currently only available when taken out with a tenants contents policy.

Pet damage insurance for landlords

While you can’t currently insist that your tenants take out pet damage insurance, it may be wise to see if you can add it to your existing landlord insurance. With one of our insurers, SAGIC, you can extend your landlord cover to include pet damage insurance for just £25 (+ Insurance Premium Tax) per property, which gives you up to £5,000 worth of cover.

Summary

The proposed new legislation makes it likely that most landlords will no longer be able to refuse tenancies to pet owners. When this happens, pet damage insurance may be a key requirement for tenants. While some landlords may be reluctant to rent properties to pet owners, doing so could result in benefits. Until the law changes, adding pet damage cover to your landlord insurance is a cheap and effective way of protecting your rental properties against accidental or sudden damage from domestic animals.

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