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Pets in rental properties – what is the latest?

One of the biggest debates during the pandemic from a lettings perspective has been whether or not tenants can keep pets in their rental properties.

The vast majority of landlords currently don’t allow it because of the potential dangers surrounding damage, hygiene, noise and insurance issues, amongst other reasons, but there has been a concerted move since the start of the pandemic to make it easier for tenants to have pets in rental properties as pet ownership has soared.

Here, we look at the latest state of play when it comes to the ongoing pets in let debate.

What is the background?

In January 2021, in response to the rising number of pet owners in the UK, the government updated its standard model tenancy agreement to effectively allow renters to keep pets as the default.

At the time, Housing Minister Christopher Pincher said that the changes would mean landlords will no longer be able to issue blanket bans on pets – instead they would need a valid reason to refuse a pet, for example concerns about the pet being too big for the size of the home.

However, despite this amendment, little changed as landlords aren’t obliged to use the standard tenancy agreement – and the vast majority don’t.

It’s still the case, according to government figures, that only around 7% of private landlords advertise pet-friendly properties, which the government says has led to some renters giving up their pets.

As well as the changes to the model tenancy agreement, there have been various attempts by MPs to make pet ownership in rental properties a default right, most notably from Conservative MP for Romford, Andrew Rosindell, whose Dogs and Domestic Animals Accommodation Protection Bill proposed to make it a right for tenants to have domestic animals in rental properties.

Despite enjoying support across the political spectrum and from the public, it hasn’t gone anywhere since passing its first reading in the House of Commons last year. The majority of bills introduced under the Ten Minute Rule – which enables backbench MPs to make the case for a new law in ten minutes, and was the mechanism used by Rosindell to introduce his Bill to Parliament – never become legislation.

Still, the pressure has remained from tenancy groups, animal rights campaigners, vets, politicians and others, while Build to Rent providers have made a virtue of being pet-friendly to cash in on this increasing tenant preference.

In early September, a well-respected political website claimed that 30 MPs from a range of political parties had written to the then-Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, urging that private tenants be allowed to keep pets in their properties.

According to Politics Home, the letter to Jenrick was penned by Rosindell and had the backing of well-known names like Labour’s Andrew Gwynne, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey and the SNP’s Lisa Cameron.

It said that landlords should be able to charge pet-specific fees – for example insurance costs or additional deposits - with the Tenant Fees Act 2019 amended to make the fees legal. As a result of that legislation, landlords can no longer charge fees for the higher risks at play with allowing pets in rental properties.

However, the government – which has been broadly supportive of the argument for pets in lets, while also being keen not to tread too hard on landlords’ toes – rejected this idea, saying it would not budge when it comes to amending the Tenant Fees Act. It insisted it would not amend the law to enable separate and additional charges for pet insurance or to cover pet damage.

“The Tenant Fees Act 2019 introduced a cap of five weeks’ rent for properties with an annual rent below £50,000, and banned most letting fees charged to tenants,” Eddie Hughes, a minister at the since renamed Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said at the time.

“The five-week cap should be considered the maximum, rather than the default amount charged. This approach should therefore accommodate private renters who wish to keep pets, without the need for a separate pet deposit. The government has no plans at this time to amend the Tenant Fees Act 2019.”

In a foreword to a report by pro-pet group AdvoCATS, Rosindell – who has become the most high-profile advocate for pet reform - argued earlier this year that the Tenant Fees Act of 2019 had positive aims but ‘has clearly been harmful to the cause of greater pet ownership for renters, an issue which has come to a head given the loneliness and self-isolation many have suffered during this pandemic, something which a dog or a cat could really ameliorate’.

He added: “Amending it to allow for landlords to require insurance as part of the permitted payments might only be a start, but it would be a positive start and I hope the government explores this as an option.”

As of now, the government is refusing to budge and despite the calls from various pressure groups and MPs, and the changes to the model tenancy agreement put in place at the start of this year, it remains the case that only a very small proportion of landlords will accept tenants with pets.

It will be a very individual decision for landlords, and there are various pros and cons to weigh up. Advantages of allowing pets could be a far greater pool of tenants to choose from, who might also stay for the longer-term if they can keep a pet. There has been a spike in younger people becoming pet owners – the very same demographic who are by far the most likely to rent and rent for the long-term. Tenants may also be willing to pay a higher rent for the privilege of keeping a pet in their home.

On the downside, of course, is the high likelihood of damage, mess, noise pollution and other problems. Even the best-behaved dog or cat will leave their mark on a property and could invalidate insurance policies or make them much more expensive. Any property that has had a pet in it is likely to need a thorough clean before any new tenants move in, which could also prove expensive.

At present, there is no obligation for landlords to allow pets with lets, and the prospect of a Bill to change that seems less likely than it did a year ago. You should work closely with your agent to decide whether allowing pets is the right thing for your rental homes.

Here at Holland Properties, we can help you to take the right approach for your own individual circumstances. We have been an established estate and letting agent since 1999 and can help to manage your tenancies, allowing you to get the most from your rental properties as a result.

For further guidance on any part of the lettings process, please contact us today. You can also request a free and instant online valuation to see how much rent you could be charging in rent in the current marketplace.