It’s a good question – and like many good questions, the answer is likely to come in the frustratingly inconclusive comment that it all depends. In other words, there are pros and cons to letting any of your tenants having a pet.
Since you are in business as a landlord, one of the compelling reasons for allowing tenants to have a pet live with them is purely economic. The Pet Owners Association, for instance, estimates that some 45% of the population owns a pet. Since there are around 4 million people living in private rented accommodation, the same percentage of pet owners represents about 1.8 million potential tenants.
That is a good number of tenants which you might not want to rule out from the get-go with a blanket ban on pets.
What the Pet Owners Association fails to mention, too, is the fact that many of those pets may be creatures as entirely innocuous as goldfish and budgerigars – animals that are clearly unlikely to cause much damage to your let property or cause any nuisance for the neighbours. When talking about landlords and their policies with respect to pets, therefore, it is most commonly a question of allowing a pet dog or cat.
The relationship between landlord is essentially a business relationship – there is no onus or expectation on you to become friends with your tenants. But it is in your own interests to be a reasonable landlord. If your reasonableness may be shown by allowing a tenant to keep a pet, you may win valuable good will that encourages the tenant to take care of your property and help you to retain a responsible and considerate tenant.
Indeed, “Guidance on unfair terms in tenancy agreements”, published a number of years ago by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), suggested that it is unacceptable for landlords to impose a blanket “no pets” ban in any tenancy agreement. The OFT has since been superseded by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) but there is yet no evidence of any challenge to the OFT’s guidance on pets. In addition, current government advice (last updated on the 7th of June 2016) on the form of tenancy agreements, suggest that these may indeed include a clause that says “no pets”.
It is entirely likely, of course, that a landlord’s attempt to ban a guide dog owned by a tenant is going to be ruled as unfair and unreasonable.
Probably the greatest objection a landlord is likely to have about pets in the let property is the amount of damage they may cause – whether this is immediate or longer-term problems such as infestation by fleas or by making the accommodation unsuitable for subsequent letting to a tenant with an allergy to certain animals.
Many landlord insurance policies – even many of those arranged by us here at Cover4LetProperty – typcially exclude damage caused by pets (reflecting the exclusion commonly included in regular home insurance for owner occupiers too).
The tenancy agreement itself might offer some protection by requiring that any tenant first asks you whether he or she may keep a pet, and you may then decide whether or not it is reasonable to agree. In addition, you might ask any such tenant for an additional deposit to cover the possibility of damage caused by the pet or the need for special extermination of fleas or other infestation.
If you require and accept any such additional deposit, however, you must ensure that you comply with the regulations on tenancy deposit protection schemes. If the tenancy is an assured shorthold tenancy (the most common form) you must place the deposit for safe keeping with an approved third party. Although the requirement is in place mainly as a defence of tenants’ rights, if there is any dispute at the end of the tenancy between you and your tenant about the deduction of any sum from the deposit held, the third party may help to resolve that dispute.
Finally, you might be worried that a pet kept by your tenant may create a nuisance for your neighbours and strain your otherwise cordial relationships with them as a result. Once again, the specific terms of the tenancy agreement may once again help. The agreement is likely to require, for instance, that your tenant acts in a reasonable and responsible manner. If they keep a pet – a dog which barks all night long, for example – you (not to mention the neighbours) may be quite entitled to consider the failure to control the animal to be unreasonable behaviour.