Pet-friendly rentals

The pandemic has seen an explosion of pet ownership in the UK but still, only a small percentage of landlords will allow them. The government is trying to address this with a new model tenancy agreement and a private members bill. But will that mean an end to pet discrimination?

Finding a rental property that will throw a bone to tenants with favourite four-legged friends has often been a challenge in the UK, with a large proportion of landlords choosing not to let their properties to tenants with pets.

Landlords may be concerned that recent news coverage suggests that the government has changed the law to prevent banning pets in rentals. Landlords can be rest assured that contrary to the media there has in fact not been a change in the law, they are still free to choose not to let their properties to tenants with pets. What has changed and been updated is the model tenancy agreement, which is a contract for residential lettings produced and recommended by the government.

There is absolutely no obligation to use this agreement and not many landlords do, therefore this would only have legal effect for landlords and tenants who use the new update model tenancy agreement (and only where a new tenancy is entered into, using the new wording).

Currently, just over 7% of private landlords advertise pet friendly properties and landlords can issue blanket bans on pets. But with an estimated 44 percent of the population owning pets (latest figures from Pet Food Manufacturers Association), this means there is a massive shortfall in pet friendly properties on the rental market.  In some cases, this has meant people have had to give up their pets all together. This is why the government is stepping in to revise its model agreement.

Consent for pets is now the default position in the new model tenancy agreement - tenants can request permission to keep any animal in the rented property, and if the landlord receives a written request and does not turn down that request with good reason in writing within 28 days, they are deemed to have given their consent.

Most landlords will of course opt to ignore this new model and opt for an agreement that gives them the right to prohibit pets - but a busy landlord who uses the new model tenancy agreement might find they have accidentally given permission for the tenant to have a whole menagerie! Under the new agreement, rejections can only be made where there is good reason, such as in smaller properties or flats where owning a pet could be impractical. To ensure landlords are protected, tenants will continue to have a legal duty to repair or cover the cost of any damage to the property.

The agreement was announced by Housing Minister Rt Hon Christopher Pincher MP, who said: “With figures showing that more than half of adults in the United Kingdom own a pet and many more welcoming pets into their lives during the pandemic, these changes mean more landlords will cater for responsible pet owners. This (Bill) strikes the right balance between helping more people find a home that’s right for them and their pet while ensuring landlords’ properties are safeguarded against inappropriate or badly behaved pets”.

What may have added to the confusion is at the same time as the new model agreement was announced, a second reading was also announced of a private members bill, the Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation and Protection) Bill 2019-21,  which seeks to establish a right for residential tenants to keep dogs and other animals in rented property, so long as they can prove that they are responsible and caring pet owners. However, the vast majority of private members bills do not become law, and unless this becomes Government policy, a real change in the law is unlikely.

While other European countries such as France, Belgium and Germany have successfully outlawed rental discrimination against pet owners, there is currently no prospect of that in the UK. 

A total of 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association. At a time of lockdowns and social distancing, many have found that pets can help stave off loneliness and encourage exercise. Research carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the investment company LetterOne, found:

- 41% of current pet owners got a new pet during lockdown, of which 95% were existing pet owners who got another animal and 5% did not previously own a pet before the lockdown

- With 80% of those polled agreeing that their dog keeps them physically active

Sarah Leslie, Lettings Manager, commented: “Living through lockdown has changed our priorities when it comes to searching for a home, as a result we have seen the number of enquiries from applicants with pets soar. Pets are seen as part and parcel of family life”.

Of course, there are exceptions. Refusing to allow a guide dog or other service animal is in breach of the Equality Act 2010 – Landlords must make reasonable adjustments. Beyond that, there is no general right for Tenants to have pets (although interestingly there is a right to hens and chickens under section 12 of the Allotments Act 1950.)

A positive of allowing pets in rental properties is that it does tend to encourage long-term renting – as it allows people to put down stronger roots – and increases the pool of tenants that landlords can target their home towards and reduces voids. With social distancing and other restrictions likely to be in play for some time yet, even with the vaccine rollout, protecting people from the ill-effects of isolation is going to be more important than ever.