After a relatively settled period in the private rental sector, the nation’s legislators are active again with new proposals to reform the rights of tenants and the responsibilities of landlords.
The impulse behind the planned changes is a desire to place a greater emphasis on the rental property as a home rather than a business asset. So should tenants be given free reign when it comes to the property and allowed to make alterations and have pets as part of the tenancy agreement?
Right to quiet enjoyment
Tenants have the right to be able to enjoy and make use of the rental home without interference from the landlord or anyone else that may act on their behalf.
The inherent danger here is that by increasing the freedom of tenants, the protections for landlords could be further eroded.
However, while there may be some new restrictions on landlords, it is quite possible that the advantages may outweigh the burdens.
The two areas that have particular prominence are pets and property alterations.
In January 2021 the government updated its model tenancy agreement which is used by the vast majority of private landlords. Among these was the prohibition on landlords using a blanket ban on tenants keeping pets.
The default position under the new model agreement is that pets will be allowed, and any landlord who wishes to exclude pets will be required to respond in writing within 28 days to a tenant’s written request.
Furthermore, the landlord must have what is judged to be a reasonable objection, not simply a bad past experience or a dislike of cats or dogs. What is reasonable is not defined, however one example would be if the property is within a block under the control of a management company which has itself banned pets.
Many landlords point out that this new liberalism towards pets is not balanced by increased protections by way of larger deposits. The maximum deposit landlords can charge remains at 5 week’s rent for properties with an annual rent of up to £50,000, and 6 weeks’ where it is up to £100,000.
Not all damage caused by animals can or should be deemed as ‘wear and tear’ although there should be the expectation that this will naturally occur depending on the pet type, size and how they are looked after, so landlords argue that the cost of repairs can easily exceed that amount, and are in any case wary of engaging in deposit disputes.
Before the introduction of the Tenant Fee Ban, landlords were free to ask for a larger deposit in return for accepting pets, but this is no longer possible.
The Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell has subsequently tabled a private members’ bill, the Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation and Protection) Bill, specifically designed to help private renters find rental properties.
In 2020 just 7% of landlords advertised rental properties as being suitable for pets
This made it very hard for pet-owners to find somewhere to rent, but it also restricted the pool of potential tenants for landlords.
The new bill seeks to address both problems and does stipulate conditions that a tenant needs to meet, which include obtaining a certificate of responsible ownership that verifies a pet has been microchipped, treated for worms and fleas, vaccinated and trained to respond to basic commands.
There are also a few exemptions available to landlords, but generally the legislation, if it passes, appears to be fairly even-handed.
The big advantages for landlords are two-fold. Firstly, with pet ownership rising, the assurances given by the new legislation open up a significant new section of the rental market, thus making it much easier to find suitable tenants.
Secondly, there is plenty of evidence that tenants who are allowed to keep pets feel more settled and committed to their home, and are more likely to seek an extension of their tenancy. This reduces void periods thus saving the landlord both time and money whilst ensuring long-term certainty for all parties.
At Inventory Base we know only too well how often disputes can occur regarding a tenant’s wish to improve a rental property, perhaps to modernise the kitchen or bathroom, to update the decor or to improve security.
The tenant is obliged to obtain the landlord’s permission, and in most cases the failure of the landlord to respond is not a green light for the tenant to go ahead regardless with their desired alterations.
It is a condition of most tenancies that the property will be surrendered at the end of the term in the same state (less fair, wear and tear) as at the beginning of the tenancy.
Even if a tenant reasonably argues that their alterations have added value, the landlord can demand the change be reversed.
The first recourse for the landlord is of course to retain the deposit in order to fund the restoration. They can go further on the grounds that the tenant has breached a term of the lease, and obtain an injunction to prevent work continuing and even an enforcement order or damages.
In reality, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, deposit disputes occur in barely 1% of cases, while in Scotland it is 3%. The major cause of dispute is end of tenancy cleaning, followed by damage to the property. Alterations are not highlighted as a significant proportion.
In 2022 the independent Social Market Foundation has published proposals which not only recommend increasing a standard tenancy to 24 months and offering tax incentives to landlords to carry out alterations and improvements, but also promote the idea of giving tenants more freedom to keep pets and to make reasonable alterations that do not impact the fabric of the property.
With over 80% of tenants satisfied with renting, the Social Marketing Foundation research shows that it is still a preferred option for many but that there is still more that both the government and landlords can do to make the private rental sector a more attractive, long term option when people are looking for a ‘home’.
The SMF report, commissioned by Paragon Bank, highlights the MD of mortgages thoughts as he expressed his conviction that in the overwhelming majority of cases landlords want to provide a good service and maintain a harmonious relationship with tenants.
Tenants are not a subclass of the renting industry. They are a customer and a consumer of services that, if treated as well as you would expect by any other service, will be a long-term advocate of the rental sector if they feel understood, considered and supported.
Giving tenants more control of the homes they live in, provided it is subject to reasonable limitations backed by property reports, regular interim visits and compliance regimes, will do as much to encourage longer-term letting as will the provisions on pet ownership.
There will always be exceptional cases where alterations go wrong or pets damage the property beyond what most would consider reasonable. The resulting ‘chaos’ will likely then end up in court, but these will be vanishingly small in a sector where co-operation and the balancing of rights are clearly defined, understood, controlled as well as being guaranteed by law.
Landlords are understandably cautious about the erosion of their rights, however these new proposals present many more opportunities than they do threats.