2020 could well be the Year of the Pet Owner after Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick MP, announced an intention to overhaul the government's model tenancy contracts by making it easier for tenants to keep well behaved pets in their homes.
The Government's current model agreement for an assured shorthold tenancy prevents tenants from keeping pets or other animals without the prior written consent of the landlord (which must not be unreasonably withheld or delayed). Landlords may also impose a condition that tenants pay an additional reasonable amount towards the deposit.
However, record numbers of people now rent their homes and Robert Jenrick has acknowledged that "pets bring a huge amount of joy and comfort to people's lives...improving their mental and physical well-being". Amendments to the model tenancy contract will therefore aim to "encourage more landlords to consider opening their doors to responsible pet owners...as part of the Government's mission to improve life for tenants".
But what are "responsible" pet owners? The most responsible of pet owners can't always stop their furry friends from causing damage to properties, shedding hair, smelling or being noisy. Landlords could face issues as a result of the proposed amendments, including:-
- disputes between tenants due to noisy or unruly pets
- being left with properties and furniture which may be less attractive to new tenants and which may therefore adversely impact the amount of rent that can be demanded
- extensive repair and/or cleaning works before a new tenant takes occupancy.
With regard to the latter, recent changes under the Tenant Fees Act 2019 impose a cap on tenancy deposits (capped at 5 weeks' rent where the annual rent is less than £50,000, and 6 weeks' rent where the annual rent is £50,000 or more). The capped deposit may not cover the cost of extensive repairs and cleaning works, so are the new proposals likely to create an allowance for this?
Arguably, the current wording of the model tenancy contracts strikes a balance between a tenant's right to keep pets and the landlord's desire to keep its property in good repair and condition and not upset neighbours. Landlords can't unreasonably refuse consent to a tenant keeping pets and blanket bans on pets are not permitted without good reason.
However, across the real estate sector generally there has been more emphasis on the well-being of tenants. New developments are more frequently designed with sustainability and well-being in mind and the government's proposals would support shifts in attitude. Given the trend towards renting, it seems discriminatory to continue to penalise those who are unable to (or choose not to) own their own property by imposing restrictions on the way tenants live.
A revised model tenancy agreement will be published by the government this year. It will be interesting to see the balance that the government's amendments strike.