Tenants and Pets

Tenants and Pets

15:06 PM, 22nd June 2022, About 2 days ago 29

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The Government’s White Paper “A Fairer Private Rented Sector” sets out proposals to allow tenants in private rented properties to keep pets. As always, the devil will be in the detail but things do not look hopeful for landlords trying to protect the value of their property. The White Paper includes the following statements:

[W]e will make it easier for landlords to accept pets by amending the Tenant Fees Act 2019 to include pet insurance as a permitted payment. This means landlords will be able to require pet insurance, so that any damage to their property is covered. [Emphasis mine – some but not all damage may be covered.] We will continue to work with landlords and other groups to encourage a common-sense approach.

You will have a right to request a pet in your property, which the landlord must consider and not unreasonably withholding (sic) consent. To mitigate any concerns about pets, your landlord may ask you to take out pet insurance. [Emphasis mine – as we shall see, such mitigation is rather limited.]

We will legislate to ensure landlords do not unreasonably withhold consent when a tenant requests to have a pet in their home, with the tenant able to challenge a decision. [Doubtless, there will be a big stick behind this.]

It will no longer be a breach of Tenant Fees Act 2019 to require, where it is reasonable, that tenants take out pet insurance. This means pet liability insurance, not insurance to cover vets’ bills – a distinction the White Paper does not address and which may be lost on many tenants. It does not appear that landlords will be allowed to charge the cost of taking out their own policy or for adding pet damage to a property and contents policy.

From a landlord’s perspective it is not at all satisfactory for the tenant to insure for various reasons:

  • The landlord has no control over the insurance policy;
  • Diligent landlords with several properties will have to scrutinise different policies to see if they are suitable or contain unacceptable exclusions;
  • The policy may be invalidated if the tenant:
    1. does not disclose material matters at inception and on renewal;
    2. makes false statements to insurers;
    3. breaches the terms of the policy;
    4. fails to pay renewal premiums – perhaps to save money; or
    5. cancels the policy without telling the landlord.
  • Even if a claim is successful, insurers will pay the tenant, not the landlord and a claim may be settled many months after the tenant has left. Landlords will worry that insurance proceeds never reach them.
  • Where a tenant fails to notify insurers promptly, claims may be refused. Some policies require notification within 30 days of damage occurring. Well-organised tenants – the sort who are responsible owners – may be timely. Others may not remember or not claim – perhaps fearing an increase in premiums – until after the tenancy ends. If insurers deny liability, the landlord may be left to claim against an impecunious tenant.

Whoever takes out insurance, it will not cover wear and tear. Paintwork on woodwork scratched by a dog will not be covered nor will extra scuffs or greasy smears on wallpaper or painted walls. Carpets, furniture and curtains will need to be replaced more frequently. Matters will be judged on the basis that the letting was to a tenant with a pet or pets so more wear and tear must be accepted.

Pet insurance may not cover the landlord for the time it takes to carry out fumigation, redecoration, repairs and reconstruction. Landlords may lose rent.

The White Paper makes no mention of any sanction for a tenant failing to maintain pet insurance or for deliberately misleading insurers as to the risk. How about a fine of up to £5,000 for a first offence and up to £30,000 for subsequent offences such as landlords face under the Tenant Fees Act 2019? (not a chance – Ed.) A landlord’s principal remedy may be to evict the tenant for a breach of contract which will put the landlord to trouble and expense with no guarantee that the court will order possession and at the end of it the landlord will have an empty property in need of work, a claim for pet damage and an ex-tenant with no insurance.

The only prudent course for a landlord accepting or being forced to accept pets is to take out his own pet liability insurance (or add it to his main policy) and increase the rent to cover the extra cost. Let us hope the insurance industry can provide landlord’s policies that are not invalidated if the tenants have provided incorrect information or breach the policy without the landlord’s knowledge

The White Paper says almost nothing on any topic about houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). No distinction has been drawn between tenants in HMOs wanting pets and tenants in a whole property. Apart from student lets, most HMOs are home for people who stay for varying lengths of time but may not always know each other well. Landlords will be extremely reluctant to have dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents or snakes in an HMO. Current and prospective tenants may have allergies or be scared of animals. They certainly will not appreciate cleaning up mess if the owner is away or listening to their absent housemate’s dog barking in a locked room when they want to sleep or relax. New tenants may feel disgust on finding pet fleas in the carpet of their bedroom.

If one housemate is allowed a pet, why not all of them? What if Tenant A’s cat kills B’s hamster or C’s mutt impregnates D’s pedigree prize winner or E’s dog constantly humps Tenant F’s leg?

It would be reasonable to allow a blanket ban on pets in HMOs. However, I can guarantee the legislation will not do so. I expect HMO landlords will try to forbid pets but the mandatory Ombudsman scheme may on occasion demand a landlord accepts them. Landlords may hope that HMO tenants are sensible and understand that the health and safety of other housemates should trump their desire for a pet. Unfortunately, the White Paper is silent on this. Landlords will have to balance one tenant’s “need” for a support animal with others’ health and happiness.

The Government wants landlords to use its model tenancy agreement “which has a clause for respectable pet owners”. Landlords will be concerned to have responsible pet owners (whether respectable or not) but will be concerned in case their tenant is one of the irresponsible ones. There are twelve mentions of “criminal landlords” but it is no surprise the White Paper contains nothing about irresponsible owners or misbehaving animals.

We should anticipate a boost for the insurance industry and a general increase in rents as landlords are forced to take on extra risk and accept greater damage to their properties.



Comments

LordOf TheManor

15:34 PM, 22nd June 2022, About 2 days ago

All of the above plus......
What happens to a landlord's right of entry in an emergency if there is a dog or dogs in the house while the tenants are out?
How do you get in without the risk of being bitten if there's a water leak in the property below?
Same for getting gas certificates done. 50% of my tenants are in jobs that mean they are not home during the day so with their permission, I go in with the gas engineer. That wouldn't work with animals in the place......
If a cat ran out the door as we entered, would that make me responsible for it?

Freda Blogs

21:59 PM, 22nd June 2022, About 2 days ago

Great summary Ian. Shows what a nonsense this dog's breakfast (no pun) of proposed legislation is, and why Landlords are leaving the PRS in droves.

Tenants will be so grateful to government for enabling them to have their pets in their rental homes.

If they can find one.

DSR

9:03 AM, 23rd June 2022, About 2 days ago

I wont be accepting pets in my properties regardless what any law says and will simply be looking at having a whole raft of reasons why in my back pocket to tick any box to prove 'reasonableness' when I refuse should it be necessary.

I will abide by the legislation that says I cannot 'discriminate' against the request from a tenant for a pet, but at every opportunity this will be rejected.

Unless the point where it is completely balanced that any tenant can be held fully held to account financially in some way for ANY pet damage SHOULD it happen and this is instantly resolvable at the end of that tenancy, then it is reasonable for me to reject any request for one.

This is all about mitigating TOTAL POTENTIAL risk IN ADVANCE - not the levels of damage etc after the effect of a known risk beforehand.

Chris Bradley

10:20 AM, 23rd June 2022, About 2 days ago

I am a landlord with dogs. I have never refused a tenant with a dog, although we have had ended up with damage caused by how the tenants treat and train their animals.
I cannot see the insurance liability working, as when we take out insurance on our pet, the liability section is only if the pet damages something outside the home, or bites someone not part of the home.
So it's of no use to the landlord. The insurance companies would have to write a total new policy and then it would be a specialist policy that would be costly

TheBiggerPicture

10:38 AM, 23rd June 2022, About 2 days ago

Great article Ian.
I assume pet liability insurance will come with a large excess as well

Simon M

11:07 AM, 23rd June 2022, About 2 days ago

It's not well-known but NIG includes pet damage in their landlord policy, sold through Endsleigh Insurance Brokers. I first heard of it through Tessa Shepperson of Landlord Law but it was still difficult to find.
It's not on Endsleigh's website, but through their commercial team on 01242 866166.
It won't solve many of the problems - and I think another is some tenants will use the new legislation to have a pet without consent. This outcome must be to raise rents for all tenants.

Ian Narbeth View Profile

11:14 AM, 23rd June 2022, About 2 days ago

Reply to the comment left by Chris Bradley at 23/06/2022 - 10:20
Chris, there are landlord policies that will cover damage, e.g. a dog destroying furniture or a carpet. The problem is that wear and tear is not covered nor loss of profit.

Jo Westlake

11:17 AM, 23rd June 2022, About 2 days ago

With any luck the insurance industry will resolve the problem for us.
The policy would need to be truly comprehensive. Scratched woodwork or grease on walls is not wear and tear. It's avoidable damage or dirt. It almost never happens in rentals without pets.
A policy would have to be paid out to the landlord but paid for by the tenant, preferably via the landlord as an extra up front lump sum annual separate payment to avoid any confusion. Any claims would have to be regarded as the tenants claim so as not to mess up the landlords no claims discount. It wouldn't be helpful in any way to incorporate it into the rent for numerous reasons, LHA, arrears, Valuation Office statistics, etc. Insurance policies are usually cheaper if an annual payment is made and should it be cancelled mid term any cancellation penalties would have already been covered by the tenant, not the landlord.
The cost of the policy would hopefully make a lot of first time pet owners reconsider. I don't have a problem with renting suitable properties to people with a long term history of responsible pet ownership. I'm just very concerned people with no idea of the welfare requirements of a pet will start demanding that they can buy one and I'll be left to deal with the entirely foreseeable consequences.

Ian Narbeth View Profile

11:56 AM, 23rd June 2022, About 2 days ago

Reply to the comment left by DSR at 23/06/2022 - 09:03
DSR, you will be obliged to sign up to an Ombudsman scheme and the tenant can appeal against your refusal.

It will not be deemed reasonable to insist that the "tenant can be held fully held to account financially in some way for ANY pet damage SHOULD it happen and this is instantly [REALLY!] resolvable at the end of that tenancy,"

In law, where a landlord unreasonably withholds consent to alterations or subletting, the tenant may choose to do the alterations or sublet and challenge the landlord to take action.

If one of your existing tenants requests having a pet and you take an absolutist line, you may find they get a pet and the ombudsman agrees that you unreasonably withheld consent. You may end up worse off.

Ian Narbeth View Profile

12:08 PM, 23rd June 2022, About 2 days ago

Reply to the comment left by Jo Westlake at 23/06/2022 - 11:17Jo
Alan Boswell https://www.alanboswell.com/pet-damage-insurance say: "It is important to note that our pet damage policy covers claims made for sudden, unintentional and unexpected physical loss, breakage or damage caused by a domestic pet to the fixtures, fittings and contents provided by the landlords to rented accommodation.
It is not for damage caused by every day wear and tear. For example, if a dog scratches at your door every day this is not covered, while if a pet pulls down curtains that causes damage to a wall this would be covered."

Other policies may cover such damage but my point still holds.

Jo, If you read my article you will see that it is unlikely you can ask the tenant to reimburse you. You can ask them to take out their own insurance which does not protect you directly.

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