Tenants and Pets

Tenants and Pets

15:06 PM, 22nd June 2022, About A week ago 30

Text Size

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

Lesley Lester

15:15 PM, 23rd June 2022, About A week ago

Reply to the comment left by John MacAlevey at 23/06/2022 - 15:09
I like your angle, would be interested in Ian's opinion. It seems unbelievable that the Government will not accept Landlords as businesses (Section 24) only investors, however want to impose rules Draconian on how we operate. Left wing vote catching half baked ideas.

Ian Narbeth View Profile

15:19 PM, 23rd June 2022, About A week ago

Reply to the comment left by DSR at 23/06/2022 - 14:44This raises two issues. First, at the outset, you can ask for whatever extra rent you like if you agree to the tenant keeping a pet or pets.
Second, the difficulty will come after the tenant is in situ and asks for permission. The question is, can you as a condition of giving consent, insist on a rent increase and if so, of what amount?
I fear that the answer will be no and nil. The White Paper says:
We will only allow increases to rent once per year, end the use of rent review clauses,
and improve tenants’ ability to challenge excessive rent increases through the First
Tier Tribunal to support people to manage their costs and to remain in their homes.

I am pretty sure the legislation won't specifically allow a rent increase and may expressly forbid it as a condition. When you are allowed to increase the rent at the annual review, you may be able to demand a higher rent because the tenant has a pet than if he did not have one.

Freda Blogs

16:53 PM, 23rd June 2022, About A week ago

Reply to the comment left by Ian Narbeth at 23/06/2022 - 15:19
"Second, the difficulty will come after the tenant is in situ and asks for permission. The question is, can you as a condition of giving consent, insist on a rent increase and if so, of what amount?"

I think there is a third, perhaps more significant concern - the tenant who is in situ, gets a pet and doesn't ask for consent, and the Landlord finds out at a periodic inspection or at the end of the tenancy.

I suspect this will happen often (as tenants will believe they are entitled to have a pet because the government has shouted about it / they don't want to pay additional rent or insurance), and this could mean that the landlord is well and truly stuffed. Insufficient deposit guaranteed.

Even if the legislation provides for this scenario and makes it conditional for a tenant to ask consent, how often are they held to the letter of the law or their AST contract, whereas Landlords are routinely held to a different standard.

Turning to law for a remedy of breach of contract by a tenant is a costly and stressful exercise with no certainty of a good outcome.

Loss of S21 will only make such a situation worse.

Ian Narbeth View Profile

17:17 PM, 23rd June 2022, About A week ago

Reply to the comment left by Freda Blogs at 23/06/2022 - 16:53
Freda
One would hope that if the tenant does not even ask permission, the ombudsman/judge would find in the landlord's favour but I am not holding my breath. If they think: "Well, if the tenant had asked, the landlord would have had to consent, so we will allow it provided the tenant takes out pet insurance" the landlord will be lumbered and will then find that the insurance covers vets' bills (useless to him) but excludes most damage.

Simon M

18:29 PM, 23rd June 2022, About A week ago

Reply to the comment left by Ian Narbeth at 23/06/2022 - 15:19
Ian,

From the white paper:
".. we will make it easier for landlords to accept pets by amending the Tenant Fees
Act 2019 to include pet insurance as a permitted payment."

I think this means, or could be interpreted as, an extra charge for a pet is prohibited under the 2019 legislation.

silversurfer2017

21:12 PM, 23rd June 2022, About A week ago

I do not allow tenants to smoke in my properties. I do not mind if they want to shorten their lives but I do find it objectionable that the smoke enters all the soft fabrics, the carpets and curtains which lingers.
Personally I would never rent anywhere that smelled of stale tobacco. Similar the house or flats of people that keep dogs often have an objectionable 'doggy' smell. I would be prepared to allow fish in a tank, or even a hamster or a gerbil if it was kept in a cage

LordOf TheManor

0:06 AM, 24th June 2022, About A week ago

Interesting comment by Silversurfer.....
Remember when smoking was an acceptable practice indoors and hotels supplied ashtrays in the rooms? In those days you could request a 'smoking' or a 'non-smoking' room - and complain big time if you got allocated a room that stank of nicotine+
It's highly possible that this could be the way that tenancies pan out in times to come driven into two distinct market sectors i.e. landlords who allow pets and those that don't - driven by the demand of incoming tenants who don't want to live in the aftermath of Fido et al.
Where I've encountered illicit pets, I've not undertaken viewings at those properties until the tenants have departed. It's expensive in terms of voids, of course. It is likle-wise impossible to impose the no-pet restriction on the potential incoming tenants/viewers if a cat litter tray is in plain sight, ditto dog toys, bunny cages and all manner of acquaria for not just fish!!!
Fergawdsake! Let's not be fooled that 'pets' are cats and dogs. House bunnies are neither and they chew anything they fancy - including electric cables and yes, they poop everywhere outside their cages. I've had one of those - and one was way too many.
Pets these days include exotic creatures: all manner of lizzards, snakes and tortoises. They live in huge tanks by necessity and they stink like hell!
What is the weight of those tanks - and the impact on the floor capacity to take it? Same for tropical fish and their kept environment in a tank (or tanks plural) that weigh more than the average furniture - which you still have to consider when tenants don't.
Summary:
1: There needs to be a firm government definition of what a pet actually is in terms of the PRS housing it, if we're expected to 'house/tolerate' it. Is it a cat, dog, rabbit, rat or what???
2: Buildings insurance: my policy will rehouse my tenants in the event that their home becomes uninhabitable due to fire or flood. It doesn't cover the re-housing of pets because I have declared that my portfolio excludes them. I have no plans to change that status.
3. Due to the shortage of every type of housing tenure, the government's 'pet friendly' policy is likely to reduce standards for those who have no choice but to accept a flea-ridden house in the area they can find/afford. The non-pet owners are then the ones who are forced to compromise.
Is it the Landlords' fault that the situation has ended like this?? No, it isn't!
How is that measured in terms of tenant satisfaction??
Let the tenants decide, eh?

Ian Narbeth View Profile

8:01 AM, 24th June 2022, About 7 days ago

Reply to the comment left by Simon M at 23/06/2022 - 18:29I agree that once the tenancy has started landlords will not be able to ask for a rent increase as a condition of giving consent. However, rents for many new lettings will rise as (a) some landlords withdraw from the market and (b) others seek compensation for the increased cost and risk that they may be required to allow pets into their property.

Lyn

17:56 PM, 24th June 2022, About 6 days ago

I don't have pets in my property in which I live because of potential damage and smell so I believe I should have the choice whether or not I allow pets in my rental properties.
I did allow one tenant to have a dog. I was lucky that there was no damage but it took weeks and a lot of effort to get rid of the smell.
As a landlord I don't think it is fair to take away my freedom of choice.

Peter

13:35 PM, 27th June 2022, About 3 days ago

I’ve had it. 38 years as a professional landlord, probably had 5,000 tenants over the years and now I’ve had enough. I’m going to pay the Capital Gains Tax and put the rest in the stock market. The average dividend over 14 years has been 3.64 percent.

After expenses, that’s reasonably close to my returns now. Or close enough for me.

Good bye everyone. Peter

Leave Comments

In order to post comments you will need to Sign In or Sign Up for a FREE Membership

or

Don't have an account? Sign Up

Landlord Tax Planning Book Now