Labour has today launched a new action plan on animal welfare, which includes a proposal to give tenants the default right to keep pets, unless there is evidence the animal is causing a nuisance.
Under the 2015 Consumer Rights Act, a landlord should only be refusing permission if it is reasonable to do so, for instance on grounds of the animal’s size, the damage it could cause and its impact on future rental prospects.
Many tenancy agreements will be worded to reflect this position. For example, the NLA’s AST includes the clause:
Not to keep any animals, reptiles, insects, rodents or birds at the Property without our written permission (which will not be unreasonably withheld). For the avoidance of doubt, this clause does not apply in connection with registered guide and assistance dogs.
There are no actual policy details yet as Labour have only said they will consult with landlords on the proposal. The NLA very much welcomes this because there are issues that will need to be addressed to make it in any way a workable policy.
Ultimately what must be avoided is a one-size-fits-all approach that treats the whole private rented sector as a giant uniform monolith. Unfortunately, politicians of all persuasions have been guilty of this, not least Labour.
The first port of call for Labour’s consultation with landlords should be to try and reach an understanding of why some landlords are reluctant to allow pets in their properties. The policy could then, hopefully, include plans to solve this reluctance.
Luckily, the NLA has previously done some research on this with our members and the results will not surprise you.
This research showed that over half (55%) were unwilling to allow tenants to keep pets in their properties:
Of those that were unwilling to allow pets, 41% of landlords cited the main reason as potential property damage:
The obvious answer to the risk of pet-related property damage is increase the security deposit taken. Alternatively, clauses could be inserted into the tenancy agreement such as one requiring the tenant to professionally clean the property on move-out. The Dogs Trust’s Lets with Petsscheme advises landlords to take these approaches.
However, these approaches will soon be outlawed by the ban of letting fees likely to come into force sometime in 2019. While deposits will be capped at 6 weeks’ rent under the draft Tenant Fees Bill, Labour would like to see this reduced to 4 weeks’ rent which we have already warned about. On top of that, the Bill would ban landlords and letting agents from requiring tenants to pay for third-party services, such as a professional cleaner.
This leaves no room for landlords to seek some extra financial protection against pet damage, which could see some unintended consequences. Perhaps landlords who currently supply furniture would stop, or decrease the amount or quality of the furniture or fittings provided.
While more costs for landlords does not automatically increase rent, it adds to the cumulative upwards pressure and could exacerbate the effects of Section 24 tax changes that are starting to impact on landlord finances.
There are likely other consequences of a “default right” that need to be addressed by any consultation the Labour undertakes with landlords. While not an exhaustive list, here are just some issues that we hope are taken into account before any policy details are decided:
- Landlords will likely face other increased costs as a result of the tenant’s “default right” to a pet. For example, landlord insurance premiums are already likely to rise if tenants have pets (if the policy even covers pet damage). What will the effect be in premiums if all tenants have the default right? What impact will this have of rents?
- Some properties may not even be suitable for pets (depending on the animal and the property) such as high-rise flats, so would not automatically improve animal welfare,
- In the case of many leasehold flats, permission for pets may not be within the gift of the landlords as the lease itself bans them. They would then need an exemption from the “default right”,
- Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) also need to be look at, so that sharers are not forced to live with pets they do not want to live with, or possibly to which they are allergic,
- How could landlords evidence that a pet is, or would cause a nuisance, and what legal routes would be open to landlords to rectify the problem or seek redress?
We welcome Labour’s promise to consult with landlords on the development on this policy, and while we may not agree on its necessity, we will endeavour to work constructively to ensure any outcome is workable and more than just another financial burden on landlords.