Pet peeves: should landlords have a ‘no pets’ rule?

Pet peeves: should landlords have a ‘no pets’ rule?

It’s a dog’s life being a landlord, especially when it comes to pets. Those pesky canines, cats, house rabbits and reptiles can cause a whole heap of trouble. In days gone by, any tenant that broke his tenancy agreement by sneaking in a Shih Tzu on the sly was evicted quicker than you can say “walkies”. However, attitudes towards furry friends finally seem to be changing.

These days landlords that permit pets are no longer considered barking mad. It’s because a massive 41% of UK households now own at least one animal. That’s 17 million homes across Britain. What’s more, a whopping 3.2 million households have procured a pet since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Can landlords really afford to turn their backs on such a huge proportion of the population?

A stroke of genius

With over nine million dogs and seven million cats now ensconced at the foot of beds across the land, it’s remarkable that just 7% of private landlords currently advertise their properties as pet-friendly. What’s more, pet ownership is highest in age groups that tend to rent the most. 35% of 24-35-year-olds either own a pet or plan to get one in the near future. Meanwhile, the average age of private renters in the UK is about 32. That’s enough to make any landlord’s ears prick up.

Pet ownership is high at the moment for a number of reasons. For starters, lockdown has increased awareness of the mental health benefits of bringing an animal into one’s home. Research by Warwick University has shown that 43% of pet owners believe that their furry companion has reduced their anxiety levels and helped them recover from mental and physical illnesses.

The number of people working from home these days is another reason why pet ownership is on the rise; remote workers miss the camaraderie of office life and turn to animals for company. Indeed, 58% believe that pets boost their productivity and motivation. 12% even admitted moaning to their pet about colleagues and their workload. Well, at least you can trust animals not to tell your boss.

The bottom line is that pets make people happy. And happy tenants often become long-term tenants. Therefore, if animals make tenants feel more at home, and help landlords to avoid costly void periods, then it’s worth considering the benefits – especially as many tenants are prepared to pay a premium for pet-friendly properties.

Once bitten …

The problem, of course, is that pets get a bad rap for a reason. Long in the tooth landlords often complain about lingering smells, fur infested furniture, and scratches on floors and woodwork. Pets aren’t exactly a big hit with the neighbours either. A dog’s understanding of anti-social behaviour etiquette leaves much to be desired. Meanwhile, cats don’t care whose garden they use as a litter tray.

There’s no doubt, therefore, that allowing pets can be something of a gamble. And in the current climate, when landlords are already under pressure due to tenant eviction bans, the Debt Respite Scheme, and lower deposits, one can understand why potential damage and the prospect of higher maintenance costs would put many off. Agents should, however, advise landlords to keep an open mind. After all, recent regulatory changes now make it more difficult to adopt a strict ‘no pets, no tenancy’ rule.

Animal rights

With pet ownership, homelessness, and mental health awareness all increasing, the government has recently taken steps to make it easier for tenants with animals to find suitable accommodation. For example, the new Model Tenancy Agreement prevents landlords from issuing a blanket ban on pets. What’s more, allowing ‘well-behaved’ pets will actually be the default position.

Although the definition of ‘well-behaved’ is quite ambiguous – pets only need to be microchipped, free of worms and fleas, vaccinated, and able to obey basic commands to pass a responsible ownership test – landlords will have to object in writing within 28 days if they want to deny a tenant’s pet request. And requests will only be denied if there’s a good practical reason such as a lack of space.

Landlords shouldn’t panic though. The new standard agreement is only a guideline and isn’t legally enforceable. It does, however, show the direction of travel. And this is definitely a worry if cats make you catatonic or dogs get you hot under the collar.

A landlord’s best friend?

So should agents recommend that their landlords accept pets? Although pets aren’t suitable for every property, we believe the benefits outweigh the negatives in the current climate. It’s also worth remembering that landlords are still protected despite the government’s new stance: tenants have a legal duty to repair or pay for any pet-induced damage. And if all else fails, then specialist landlord insurance should take care of it.

The biggest concern, however, should always be whether pets equal profits. And we believe they do. Accepting tenants with animals increases demand for a property and should allow landlords to charge higher rent. Agents could even go further by actively encouraging landlords to advertise their properties as pet-friendly. After all, there’s no shame in sniffing out every advantage in this dog-eat-dog market.

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