The Government is changing the law to make it easier for tenants in the Private Rented Sector (PRS) to keep pets at their property. Known as The Renters (Reform) Bill, it was introduced to Parliament on 17th May 2023 and includes measures to amend the Housing Act of 1988.
One of the key changes found in the Renters’ Reform Bill will make it an implied term of assured tenancy, with some exceptions, that a tenant may keep a pet with the landlord’s consent. However, there is scope for the landlord to reasonably refuse this request on certain grounds.
Keen to support private rented sector (PRS) landlords and agents through the changes that lay ahead, this article will reintroduce the Renters’ Reform Bill and outline the landscape for keeping pets before and after it becomes law, whilst including key reactions towards these anticipated changes.
What is the Renters Reform Bill?
Aiming to create a more balanced PRS rental landscape to drive the Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ initiatives, the Renters Reform Bill was introduced to Westminster. So far, opinion has been divided over the core contents during the interim period, especially regarding the end of Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions and extended grounds for Section 8 possessions.
The latter point is intended to help frustrated landlords take possession of their home should the tenants engage in anti-social behaviour in response to wider concerns in the PRS. However, on the matter at hand, renting with pets will, in principle, become more achievable for tenants once the bill passes into law.
To learn more about the Renters Reform Bill, read our article Renters’ Reform Bill (RRB): Key Updates for May 2023, published just two days after the announcement.
Renting with Pets before the Renters’ Reform Bill
As things stand today, the decision of whether to allow pets at a property is the landlord’s to make. However, the Government has been encouraging landlords to offer this permission since the start of 2021, with its revision of the Model Tenancy Agreement for assured shorthold tenancies.
Recent Changes to Landlords’ Rights
As Good Lord reports, this agreement has “encouraged landlords to no longer issue a blanket ban on pets by default”. Rather, it has become the status quo that consent for pet rentals is the default position, and landlords have 28 days to issue a written pet request. The landlord’s failure to reply within this four-week period will see the tenant’s permission granted by default under the model tenancy agreement.
In England, the pet friendly renting clause within tenancy agreements retained landlords’ rights to refuse a pet. It is purely advisory and hopes to help responsible pet owners find suitable rental accommodation.
Seeking to protect landlords’ investments against destructive pets and anti-social tenants, landlords who adopted this agreement have clear guidelines to follow.
A House of Commons library passage on this agreement stipulates that landlords:
- Must not unreasonably withhold or delay a written from a Tenant without considering the request on its own merits
- Should accept such as request where they are satisfied the Tenant is a responsible pet owner
- Should accept the request if the pet is of a kind that is suitable in relation to the nature of the premises at which it will be kept
This last point alludes to the landlord’s right to reject a pet, such as in the case of smaller properties or flats where keeping a pet could be impractical, as outlined in a 2021 press release following the then Housing Minister’s introduction of Model Tenancy Agreements. The Minister argued this change was vital as just 7% of private landlords currently advertise pet friendly properties.
The current rules of pet friendly rentals
According to a survey undertaken by LSL Corporate Client Department, good tenants are willing to pay more for their rent if that means they can keep their pets, with the average additional figure working out as an extra £24.00 per month on top of the rent.
However, in England, landlords are banned from requesting a higher tenancy deposit for applicants with pets, as covered in our article ‘Pets and Property Alterations – Should tenants be allowed?’. This follows the capping of deposits in 2019 with the Tenant Fees Act.
Also, Propertymark, the leading membership body for property agents, notes that PRS landlords can’t insist on a professional cleaning or de-flea treatment service at the end of the tenancy, which may have deterred many landlords from allowing pet rentals or remaining in the sector at a time when their rights have been seen as diminished.
Propertymark explains that landlords can be reassured by the need for tenants to take care of the property to return it in the same condition as it was at the start of the tenancy. However, any damage must be repaired before leaving the property.
Renting with pets after the RRB becomes law
Once passed into law, one of the changes outlined in the Renters Reform Bill will prove popular among owners of the UK’s 34 million pets. Sadly, many tenants have had to rehome their animals in the past due to difficulties in finding landlords that allowed them to keep pets at a property.
In future, the consideration period for landlords to grant or refuse consent in writing will be extended to 42 days (from 28 days) after receiving a tenant’s request for a pet. Landlords will be able to extend this term by seven days should they need to reasonably request further information from the tenant, according to Good Lord.
Should this information be outstanding after the extension period has expired, a landlord won’t need to refuse or give consent. This gives landlords more time to consider tenant’s requests and should ensure that landlords feel truly reassured by their tenant’s responsible nature, which could ultimately benefit both parties, rather than leading to a rushed decision one way or the other.
There is another positive outcome for landlords worried about pets damaging their property. The Renters Reform Bill allows landlords to insist that their tenants purchase adequate insurance in exchange for permitting pet rentals. As a condition of giving this consent, landlords will be able to require tenants to have insurance covering the risk of pet damage or require the tenant to pay the landlord’s reasonable request of pet damage insurance.
This agreement offers a sensible approach to renting with pets that should prove popular on both sides. Any damage would be recouped if necessary, providing the insurance claim is successful.
However, it may worry landlords to learn that a tenant will be able to escalate their complaint to the Private Rented Sector Ombudsman or “take the case to court should the tenant feel the landlord has “unreasonably” refused pets. More details can be found in official Gov.uk guidance.
This prospect highlights the key difference following the future implementation of the Renters Reform Bill. The situation has flipped from landlords being able to automatically refuse pets to one where significant reasons must be offered alongside the refusal. Unlike in the past, landlords will have to prove a reasonable ground if they wish to refuse this request.
Key opinions on pets and the Renters Reform Bill
These exceptions remain vague to many commentators, including Chris Norris of the National Resident Landlords Association (NRLA). Norris said: “It still remains unclear as to the exact grounds on which landlords can refuse to let to tenants with a pet, so the government must provide greater clarity on this point”.
On the other hand, the RSPCA has high hopes for the Renters Reform Bill. Their Head of Campaigns and Public Affairs, David Bowles believes that it will make a big difference, and “not just to pets, who do not have to go through the trauma of being separated from their owner, but also pet owners, because they get a lot of pleasure from having a pet.”
This topic is a complex one to navigate, and it also affects lettings agents who will need to advise landlords on the key elements of the Renters Reform Bill.
From the question of How Will the Renters Reform Bill Impact Lettings Agents? to the wider debate around pets and renting, it’s fair to say that responsible tenants with well-behaved pets should work with their landlord and letting agent to alleviate concerns. Doing so will ensure that the property remains in the same condition as when first let, and that both parties are comfortable with the arrangement.
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