A landlord’s guide to renting with pets

Landlord Advice

30 June 2021

The UK is a nation of pet lovers. In 2020, a total of 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a new pet as a result of the pandemic, meaning the country now has 17 million pet-owning homes.

Young people are the main drivers of this trend, with more than half of new pet owners aged 16 to 34. And since younger people are currently more likely than ever to be in the rental market, the trend towards pet ownership is one landlords should be taking note of.

In addition, the UK Government has implemented changes so that tenants with well-behaved pets in England will be able to secure leases more easily through a new Model Tenancy Agreement. So is it time you considered letting your tenants keep pets in your rental properties?

Here, AXA looks at the UK Government’s new Model Tenancy Agreement, the pros and cons of leasing to tenants with pets and what your legal rights are as a landlord.

 

The new Model Tenancy Agreement explained

The Model Tenancy Agreement is the UK Government’s recommended, standardised contract for use between landlords and their tenants in a shorthold tenancy. The agreement covers England, although similar standardised tenancy agreements are in use in other parts of the UK.

It sets out the landlord’s and tenant’s obligations during the tenancy, outlines any break clauses in the agreement and describes what grounds the landlord might have for ending a tenancy.

On 28 January the UK Government announced that, as part of a new Model Tenancy Agreement, responsible tenants with well-behaved pets in England will now be able to secure leases more easily.

This is a massive change for landlords, as it means landlords can no longer issue blanket bans for pets in their properties. Consent for pets will be the new default position, and landlords will have to object in writing within 28 days of a written pet request from a tenant, and must provide a valid reason as to why a pet can’t be allowed in the property.

 

What is a ‘valid reason’ to refuse a request from a tenant to keep pets?

The agreement makes clear that the landlord may still refuse a request from a tenant to keep a pet in their rental property. The objection must be made in writing to the tenant within 28 days of their request, and must give a ‘valid reason’ for the refusal.

Some examples of a valid reason could be:

Space: the pet needs to be suitable in relation to the premises where it will be kept. If you’re renting a small flat, it may be impractical and even inhumane for the tenant to expect to keep three Great Danes in the property

Safety: by law, some animals are banned in England without special permissions. For example, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 makes it illegal to keep dogs such as pit bull terriers or Japanese Tosas without an exemption from a court.

Type of animal: the agreement applies to pets, however there is a big difference between a calm dog and a more exotic pet such as a fully grown pig, snake or lizard which can require specialist care or equipment.

 

What are my rights as a landlord?

The Model Tenancy Agreement is used as a recommended guide only and is currently not a law, so your legal rights as a landlord are unaffected.

The landlord’s right to ensure that their property is well maintained is also being protected, as tenants will continue to have a legal duty to repair or cover the cost of any damage to the property caused by the pet.

The new changes also only apply in England. For landlords in Scotland, for example, the guidance hasn’t changed and the standardised agreement still states that tenants may not keep pets without the written consent of the landlord (although landlords are free to amend this as they wish). In Wales, there is currently no national tenancy agreement in place.

While the changes are for guidance only and not yet enshrined in law, it’s an interesting move forward and could be a sign that the future expectation is that landlords should allow pets as standard.

 

Should I allow pets in my rental property?

As the new Model Tenancy Agreement is guidance only and not legally mandated, the decision to allow tenants to keep animals in their rental property still lies with the landlord.

However, there are a number of pros and cons to consider before you decide whether or not to allow your tenants to keep a pet.

The pros and cons of allowing pets in a rental property

Pros

  • Allowing pets in your rental property can open your property up to a wider audience of potential tenants of pet owners and non-pet owners alike
  • By increasing your audience of potential tenants, demand for your property could increase and you could expect a higher rental price per calendar month
  • Allowing a reliable tenant to keep a pet could encourage them to stay long term, meaning you don’t have to bother finding new tenants and risk having periods where your property is empty

Cons

  • Introducing a pet can increase the risk of damage to the property and can cause increased wear and tear on furniture or floors
  • Barking dogs can upset the neighbours and be a source of ongoing dispute, or dog fouling in local gardens and parks can be a real issue
  • Many landlord insurance policies won’t cover damage caused by a tenant’s pets

 

How do I accept pets while protecting my property?

If you’ve weighed up the pros and cons of allowing tenants to keep pets in your rental property and decided to go for it, there are ways to keep your tenants happy and keep your property safe from damage at the same time.

Here’s some tips to get the best outcomes for your tenants while making sure their pets are keeping damage to a minimum.

Plan in advance

Communication is key. Talk to your tenant or prospective tenant about the kind of pet they would like to have and how they intend to look after it. The difference between a sleepy housecat and a hyperactive puppy could have a real impact on your rental property.

Be specific

When drafting an agreement with your new tenant, either using the new Model Tenancy Agreement or a similar tenancy agreement, be very specific about what is or isn’t acceptable with regards to pets in your property. For example, be specific that the agreement only accounts for the dog or cat in question, not any other animals the tenant may want to bring in in future.

Being clear and up front now will prevent any awkward conversations down the line.

Get covered 

If you’re worried about the impact pets may have on your rental property, you could look to include a clause in your tenancy agreement stating that in the case of any damage caused by the animal, the responsibility is on the tenant to organise the necessary repairs.

Most landlord insurance policies won’t cover you if a tenant’s pet causes damage to the property or furniture, for example by scratching, clawing or biting at floors, couches or doors. However, landlord insurance still provides your rental property with the protection it needs if, for example, your tenants need to be rehoused following a flood or fire, you need to cover costs following repairs or rebuilding, or contents cover for the length of a tenancy.