Last month, Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, urged landlords to allow their tenants to keep well-behaved pets. The Government has now updated its model tenancy agreement to make it easier for tenants with pets to find rented accommodation. This change comes alongside other proposed reforms including the removal of ground rent, the ability to increase lease terms to 990 years and the establishment of a commonhold model, all of which are aimed at benefitting leaseholders and making homeownership more accessible.
The Government’s press release states that the new standard tenancy agreement will make it easier for responsible tenants with well-behaved pets to secure a lease. Landlords cannot issue a blanket ban on pet ownership under the new model tenancy agreement and consent for pets will now be the standard position. Landlords will need to respond to a written pet request from their tenants within 28 days of its submission, and rejections can only be made where there is a good reason. Examples of ‘good reasons’ provided in the guidance include where the property is a flat or smaller home, and where pet ownership is likely less practical or suitable for the welfare of the pet. Housing minister Christopher Pinch has stated that “this strikes the right balance between helping more people find a home that’s right for them and their pet while ensuring landlords’ properties are safeguarded against inappropriate or badly behaved pets”.
However, there is very little guidance offered on how to deal with a tenant if their pet is badly behaved and the consent has already been granted. Landlords are, however, provided with some protection as tenants will still be required to repair or cover the cost of any damage to the property made by their pet. Additionally, the landlord may give their consent on the condition that the tenant pays an additional reasonable amount towards the deposit.
Landlords will have to be mindful that an increase in the deposit payable will result in a breach of the Tenant Fees Act 2019. For tenancies where the annual rent is less than £50,000, the maximum that can be held as a deposit is the equivalent of five weeks’ rent, and where the annual rent is £50,000 or more, it is six weeks’ rent. If a landlord is already requesting the maximum they can for a deposit, they could instead consider requesting a ‘pet rent’ where a tenant agrees to pay a higher amount of rent to accommodate them keeping a pet. So long as the rent payable is the same on every day of the tenancy, this would not breach the Tenant Fees Act 2019.
There are many benefits of owning a pet, including a positive impact on mental health - and these benefits are magnified during the pandemic. The RSPCA has seen a 600% increase in visitors to its puppy fostering website page. Similarly, the Dogs Trust has updated its famous slogan to “A dog is for life, not just for lockdown”. The Government’s announcement is a positive move aimed at improving the lives of tenants, arguably when it is needed most, but there are still concerns as to whether these reforms will influence change or be written into legislation. The suggested ‘good reasons’ for rejecting a request to keep a pet, for example, are limited. The model tenancy agreement is also only a recommended contract for landlords and currently there is no incentive nor requirement to use this form.
The new reforms are welcome, and show a clear intention on behalf of the Government to enhance the freedoms of tenants while they navigate the rental market. However, further guidance is needed around what constitutes grounds for rejecting a request to keep a pet.
This article has been co-written with Lucy Norton, a paralegal in the social housing team.