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Now it should be easier to have a pet in rented premises

But I fear that a good solicitor will drive a coach and horses through the new rulings if a landlord wants them to

Early in December, I wrote an opinion piece for this website bemoaning how difficult it is to find somewhere to rent that will allow you to keep a pet. Someone in high places must have been listening!

At the very end of last month (January 28) a new Model Tenancy Agreement was introduced by the Government under which it is assumed that tenants are allowed to keep pets unless the landlord objects in writing, giving a good reason.

On the face of it this sounds like good progress – just what I was seeking. On the face of it…

It leaves me asking questions such as: what constitutes a good reason to object and who will decide what is ‘good’ if the two parties cannot agree? I think it’s highly unlikely they will.

I guess such matters may end up in the courts and then we might be into the ‘who has the deeper pockets’ debate. How many renters have the money to go to court when, with the best will in the world, they fear they might lose? Though perhaps such matters will fall within the remit of the small claims courts which, I understand, is not such an expensive process. I hope that applies here.

The wording I have been reading suggests that the word ‘model’ (i.e. exemplary) may be very operative here. So, what constitutes a model tenant? Being very simplistic I would imagine it’s someone who pays the rent on time, doesn’t annoy neighbours with loud music and doesn’t allow the premises to go to pot. I did say I was being simplistic.

I am grateful to London-based estate agents Douglas & Gordon for the following overview:

Research from YouGov and Mars Petcare shows that 82% of people say having a pet would positively impact their mental health, with 76% saying a dog or cat at home would make them feel less lonely. However, two-thirds admit to holding off because of their landlords.   

Having collated further insights into how much of a pet loving nation the UK is, more than half of Brits (51%) currently own a dog while 47% say they own a cat. It is no surprise that private renters have long wanted landlords to be more lenient when it comes to having pets.

However, this is most likely to change under the newly announced Model Tenancy Agreement where landlords can no longer automatically ban tenants from having pets. Instead, consent for pets is the default position unless landlords object in writing and provide a good reason.

This news opens up a world of options for the 4.5 million private renters in the UK, many of whom welcomed animals into their homes during the pandemic to combat loneliness.

Internal data from Douglas & Gordon shows just 4% of London rentals are advertised as pet-friendly, against 23% that expressly say ‘no pets allowed’. The remaining 70% do not specify, meaning potential tenants would need to ask upfront.

The latest guidance means finding a home with a dog or a cat could be much easier going forward.

Hannah McDougall, Chelsea lettings manager at Douglas & Gordon says: “The new Model Tenancy Agreement is positive news for both tenants and landlords, who can benefit from this new approach by encouraging more honest and transparent conversations. Landlords who might not have considered pets before will see that they have access to a far greater pool of potential tenants and be able to increase demand for their properties significantly, while landlords in buildings which do not allow pets are still able to make sure they adhere to their lease agreements.

“In a post-pandemic world where dog and cat ownership has surged, and people are at home much more often, we are pleased to be able to support more tenants in finding and settling into a long-term tenancy and making a home for themselves and their four-legged companions.” 

Image by Winsker from Pixabay

How to approach a landlord about pets

Most landlords are rightfully concerned about potential property damage and cleaning costs associated with renting to people with pets. Often, previously bad experiences with irresponsible pet owners has created a somewhat negative reputation around the issue.

Fortunately, the Government’s new guidance could work as a reminder that landlords and tenants can make pet-friendly rentals work for both parties. When approaching a new landlord about pets, there are a few things you can do to prove that you’re a responsible pet owner:

  • Offer references from previous properties
  • Provide pet documents, like vaccination records and a spay/neuter certificate
  • Offer to arrange a meet and greet session with your pets

I wouldn’t disagree with any of the above, but I would point out that these three suggestions will not apply to everyone. Indeed, maybe not many. For example, quoting my own situation, I have been renting for four years at the same (no dogs allowed) location since returning to the UK from an expat life where I had a smashing dog for more than a decade. So, while I can offer references saying I am a thoroughly good chap who pays his rent on time etc., I cannot make any claims (at least none that I can substantiate) about my ability to take proper care of an animal. So, no pet documents and the like because I don’t have a pet for the landlord to meet and greet.

For my next rental I want it to be in Kent – preferably in Maidstone for proximity to my sons (nothing against other parts of the county) – but I feel I must have sign-up from the landlord in advance to the idea of me keeping a pet. I think it would be irresponsible in terms of the animal’s welfare to rent somewhere, introduce a pet and then say to the landlord: “What do you say to that, mate?”

The pendulum may have swung slightly in my favour through this new legislation, but I would say that landlords who are determined not to have pets in their properties will probably still get their way. The pessimist in me. I should imagine there are solicitors out there already working on good reasons why animals should not be allowed! I wonder if the contention on my part that I’m getting on and would appreciate the company of a dog would constitute a valid counter-argument?

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past local weekly publications he has worked for include: the South-East London Mercury* covering the Borough of Greenwich as a junior reporter; Orpington-based News Shopper as a sub-editor; and the Kent Messenger when based in Larkfield, Maidstone, as deputy chief sub-editor. He has also worked for the following dailies/nationals: Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor on a car fleet magazine. His first foray into property ownership saw him move from London to Rainham (the Gillingham, Kent, variety). He has subsequently lived in Chislehurst, Petts Wood and Orpington in the Borough of Bromley (which he still regards as being in Kent). In more recent years he owned three different properties on the Kings Hill (West Malling) development.

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