The question of whether landlords can legally charge tenants “pet rent” for their dogs, cats or other animals has divided the UK rental sector.
Changes to the law in January 2021 meant tenants with pets had more rights. Now, some landlords are compensating for the potential damage a pet might cause to furniture or carpets by charging higher rent. This has left some tenants in a no-win situation.
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The publication of the government’s new standard tenancy agreement helped pet owners by introducing pet-friendly provisions. This means landlords can no longer impose a blanket ban on tenants having pets. Instead, having a pet has become the default position for renters.
What are the landlord/tenant rules regarding pets?
If the landlord doesn’t want animals in the house, they must have a valid reason for their stance. By law, they must object in writing within 28 days of the tenant’s written pet request. The landlord must provide a good reason for their objection.
A valid reason would be if the rental property was in a block of flats where the management company didn’t allow pets. The landlord can no longer issue a blanket ban on dogs or cats in case they cause damage. This isn’t classed as a valid reason and in law will be deemed as prejudicial towards the new tenant and their pet.
To counter the legislation, some landlords and letting agencies have introduced “pet rent”, meaning the tenant must pay extra to cover the perceived higher risks of having animals in the property. Some believe this is unfair – especially with the current cost of living crisis. They have a choice of paying a cheaper rent but having to rehome their pets or keeping their furry friends but with a higher rent they can ill afford.
Is pet rent legal in the UK?
By law, the landlord can’t demand a larger deposit because they’re renting their property to tenants with pets. Nor can the landlord ask the tenant to pay for the property to be cleaned professionally at the end of their tenancy.
They can try to recover the cost of refurbishing the property from tenants due to pet damage if the full deposit doesn’t cover the expenditure. However, most landlords say they are wary of deposit disputes and rarely launch county court action against a tenant. The tenant often doesn’t have enough money to pay legal costs and additional damages even if the landlord wins the case, making it a hollow victory on paper only.
However, a landlord can legally consider the option of charging pet rent. This means charging a higher rent from the outset to cover the risks of higher overheads if the pet causes damage. To pay for repairs, the landlord can also retain the full deposit if the property is badly damaged.
Pet rent isn’t popular among tenants, who argue it’s unfair to charge a blanket extra rent on everyone because it penalises responsible animal owners. People with well-behaved dogs and cats say they would prefer to pay a higher deposit upfront, safe in the knowledge they will get it back at the end of their tenancy. However, government legislation covers the maximum amount a landlord can charge as a deposit, so the landlord doesn’t legally have this option.
If the landlord requires extra pet rent, this must be written into the tenancy agreement. All parties must understand what it is and must sign to this effect. This means landlords can’t introduce extra rent midway through a tenancy should the worst happen.
One cat-owner has gone to extreme lengths to avoid paying pet rent, in the belief she has found a loophole in the law. London resident Deborah Hodge, 49, “married” her pet cat India, five, in a ceremony in a public park. She took the drastic measure after having to rehome her two dogs and another cat because she wasn’t permitted to keep them in a rented property.
She said the importance of animals as family members was proven by the decision to permit Ukrainian refugees to flee to other countries with their pets. She said the ceremony emphasised her desperation amid fears she will lose her final cat.
New animals’ accommodation protection law
As well as existing legislation, a new bill is currently being discussed by Parliament. The proposed Dogs and Domestic Animals Accommodation Protection Bill is aimed at helping animal owners to source suitable rented accommodation.
The bill, introduced in 2021, has passed its first reading in the Commons. It was proposed by Romford MP Andrew Rosindell, who believes separating people from their dogs is the same as parting them from family members. He is trying to prevent landlords from imposing “unnecessary bans or restrictions” on pet ownership.
The bill prioritises animal welfare as well as tenants’ rights. It proposes pet owners must obtain a certificate of responsible animal guardianship, with a test conducted by a registered vet -this includes having dogs and cats microchipped, de-wormed and de-flead; keeping their vaccinations up-to-date; and having them sufficiently trained, so they will respond to basic commands. The information will be entered into a national database.
However, this will not give tenants an unconditional right to keep their pets. If the animal is believed to be at risk or causing nuisance or danger to neighbours, it won’t be permitted.
A landlord can apply for a certificate of exemption to restrict a tenant’s right to have a pet. If the landlord has a medical or religious reason not to be in contact with a domestic animal, or if the accommodation is deemed unsuitable for the animal, the landlord can apply.
The bill is awaiting its second reading in the Commons, but still has a long way to go even if it passes this stage. Landlords will await the outcome with interest, so they may gauge whether the legislation strengthens or weakens their position in the fight against irresponsible tenants who cause damage to their property.