Around 44% of UK households have pets, but only around 7% of landlords stipulate that pets are welcome in their properties. That's a large discrepancy for a nation of animal lovers, and the Government is looking to make the UK rental market easier for "responsible pet owners" to find a home.
Back in January 2020, Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, said: "Pets bring a huge amount of joy and comfort to people’s lives, helping their owners through difficult times and improving their mental and physical wellbeing. So, it’s a shame that thousands of animal-loving tenants and their children can’t experience this because they rent their homes instead of owning property."
Given our British love affair with pets, why do so many landlords and managing agents shy away from allowing people with pets to rent their properties? Obviously extreme stories that make the news can be grim reading, but so can those of tenants without pets: good behaviour simply doesn't make good news!
So this week's blog looks at the realities of renting to people with pets: what to know, what to ask, and what to consider. As well as showing you how you can benefit from keeping an open mind, we'll provide useful examples of simple clauses and protections to give you comfort in the decisions you take, and to widen your audience to include this ever-growing demographic.
Somebody with an Irish wolfhound is obviously not a suitable tenant for a small upstairs studio flat, but a large family home with a big garden is clearly capable of sustaining a pet alongside adults and children. It's all about what makes a good fit.
A good place to start is a pragmatic look at the type of property you have, and who it is made for. Is it designed for family use, a single person, or somewhere in between?This will inform you about its potential suitability for tenants with pets.
Next, ask questions about the pet of your potential tenants: nobody is going to be cagey about their darling spaniel if they know they have a well-mannered pooch. You could ask to meet the pet in person before making a final decision (or ask your managing agent to), or even request a video of them at play to give you a real idea of behaviour.
There are plenty of ways to get a proper feel for someone's pet to make a decision you're comfortable with.
The reason why most landlords refuse pets is not that they don't like animals; in fact many have pets themselves. The concern is of damage or nuisance, so it's a business decision to minimise potential hassle. Ultimately, it's one less thing to think about.
But accepting pets doesn't necessarily mean leaving everything to chance. Just as you take up references for the people wishing to move in, you can also ask for a reference for their pet. Simply add in a question in your request to their previous landlord.
It has to be said that much bad behavior from animals comes from the conduct of their owners. You probably have friends who provide different types of evidence around what it's like to have pets: some dogs go wild when the doorbell rings, others couldn't care less about human activity until there's a biscuit on offer.
Those same friends might also offer up varying insights of parenthood, from perfectly charming little ones who enrich every waking moment, to screaming tearaways that try the patience of a saint!
The point is that most pets - and children, alas! - reflect their adult guardians. So if you're happy with the people moving in, you can probably give their pet the benefit of the doubt: most leave less of a trace in residence than a crayon-happy toddler.
TRAINED TO STAY
Given the small amount of landlords actively inviting tenants with pets, people with animals regularly find themselves with a smaller choice of rental property to choose from. They're also acutely aware that moving home is unsettling for animals.
These make a pair of highly focusing and motivating factors that draw people with pets to properties they'd like to call home for a long time; they seek permanence.
All this adds up to longer tenancies and, more importantly, reduced or eliminated void periods, which are high on the 'things to avoid' list for landlords. So if you'd like to find a long-term tenant for your rental property, a pet-owner can be a good prospect.
When you see the true affection and companionship between pets and their owners, it's not so different from the love shown from parents to their children. Indeed, pets very often become an integral part of family units.
In many ways, pets are treated as much as people as they are as animals, from feeding them and talking to them, to going for walks or cuddling up on the couch for a movie.
Seeing how people behave with and around their pets can provide an extra insight into that person's character, beyond that of simply a pet-owner. You could even argue that the relationship between a pet and its owner could give you a deeper understanding of your potential tenants than paperwork and references alone.
SHARPEN YOUR CLAUSE
The tenant fee ban means landlords can no longer charge higher deposits for pets. The amount is now capped at five weeks rent for assured shorthold tenancies up to £50,000 per year.
However, you can certainly add in some extra wording to your tenancy agreement for how people manage their pets when living at your property.
Typical clauses for pets while in residence cover things like fouling the garden, making immediate repairs for damages, and ensuring that animals aren't left alone for too long. You could also include the need to check for - and eliminate - any pests or odours when your tenants leave.
The Dogs Trust provides a template for a clause allowing pets which you can read here:
The template includes the type and breed of animal, and you can simply insert it into your tenancy agreement.
You can also download a template for a Pet Policy, to use in connection with your tenancy agreement, here:
As well as covering all bases with clauses and wording, you may also find that tenants with pets will pay an additional amount in monthly rent to make up for the deposit being capped. Anyone willing to do so is really standing by their trust in their animals.
As with all tenancies, the most important thing for you as a landlord is to feel comfortable with who you accept to live in your property: it's perfectly possible to maintain an open mind without feeling pressured into anything.
There is no overriding evidence that people with pets are any less caring or conscientious when it comes to looking after their home, and it could be argued that the companionship people look for in animals suggests an all-round caring nature.
It's also worth remembering that the Office of Fair Trading considers blanket bans on pets, without consideration of the circumstances, to be "unfair". In reality you may never get taken up on your no pets position, but with so many possible clauses and protections at your disposal, you could find that an open mind delivers the perfect long-term tenant.
If you'd like to talk about whether to accept pets in your rental property, or if you'd like to discuss any aspect of being a landlord, why not get in touch? You can call us on 01737 765333 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com - we'd love to help.