Pet rent and pet deposits: A landlord’s guide to lets for pets

Lets with pets, the landlord’s dilemma

Letting to tenants with pets opens up a sizeable section of the rental market to landlords, yet just seven per cent of landlords in the UK currently advertise their properties as pet friendly. Pet ownership levels peaked to an unprecedented high of 59 per cent in 2020/21, most likely due to the pandemic and people spending more time at home. With such a pet loving population, is it time for landlords in the UK to start offering more pet friendly rentals?

Although the majority of pet owners look after their pet responsibly, most landlords and letting agents prohibit pets in their rental properties because of the potential damage that they can cause. As a result, 78 per cent of pet owners, according to a survey by the Dogs Trust, have experienced difficulty in finding accommodation which accepts pets. This is not surprising since traditionally most tenancy agreements contain a pet clause banning pets. This approach suited the situation when the letting market was very small and most properties available for renting were flats. But in a growing UK rental market with an increasingly diverse range of potential tenants, including more families, there’s a danger that thousands of them will be excluded from renting if they are banned from keeping pets.

There is always a potential risk to letting to tenants with pets, as some pets can cause expensive and long-term damage in a property. But responsible pet owners with well-trained pets are a win win. Tenants find a home with a welcoming landlord, and everyone is happy, including the pet.

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In this guide, we’ll help landlords navigate the thorny issue of dealing with pets in rental properties and offer guidance on how the law applies.

Here’s a list of contents so that you can jump to any section that’s of particular interest:

  1. How does the law affect landlords with pets in lets?
  2. What are the advantages of allowing pets in lets?
  3. What are the disadvantages of allowing pets in lets?
  4. What safeguards can you put in place?
  5. Rents for pets
  6. Is pet damage insurance available?
  7. What future legal changes are likely to affect landlords letting to pets?

How does the law affect landlords with pets in lets?

There has been some confusion recently surrounding the legal position of landlords and tenants with pets. Several attempts have been made by MPs to bring in new legislation which would allow pets into rental properties by default. But although there is a legislative push to make it harder for landlords to reject tenants with pets, including a proposed pet protection bill awaiting parliament’s approval, this looks unlikely for the moment.


The model tenancy agreement and pets

The Government has an interest in seeing that tenants with pets can find a home as it relies more and more on the private rented sector (PRS) to house low-income families. There has been a recent government drive to encourage landlords to take in pets and, in their updated model tenancy agreement, the default position is that landlords will no longer be able to ban pets in their properties without reason. On page 29 there is a clause which reads:

A Tenant must seek the prior written consent of the Landlord should they wish to keep pets or other animals at the Property. A Landlord must not unreasonably withhold or delay a written request from a Tenant without considering the request on its own merits.

The Landlord should accept such a request where they are satisfied the Tenant is a responsible pet owner and the pet is of a kind that is suitable in relation to the nature of the premises at which it will be kept.

Consent is deemed to be granted unless the written request is turned down by a Landlord, with good reason, in writing, within 28 days of receiving the request.

A Landlord is prohibited from charging a fee to a Tenant who wishes to keep pets or other animals at the Property.

Permission may be given on the condition that the Tenant pays an additional reasonable amount towards the deposit, but the deposit must not breach the deposit cap requirements under the Tenant Fees Act 2019.”

While the Government’s model tenancy agreement is comprehensive and well drafted, it is not commonly used. For one thing it is very long, at some 64 pages, and it is designed so that landlords can let for longer than normal, encouraging longer fixed terms of two years or more, whereas most landlords and agents prefer tenancy terms of between six and 18 months.


Tenant Fees Act 2019

There is another consideration for landlords in England – the Tenant Fees Act 2019 introduced bans on tenant fees and a cap on tenancy deposits of five weeks’ rent. This rarely leaves enough of a cushion to cover any costs for damage caused by pets.

The Government rejected the idea of changing the Act to be amended to allow landlords to either take additional deposits off tenants seeking to rent with pets or require tenants to take out extra insurance. As a result, many landlords in England (the rules are different in the rest of the UK where higher deposits are still allowed), have no choice but to charge extra rent for tenants with pets so that they are not out of pocket if pets cause damage to the property.


Can landlords ban pets?

The Consumer and Markets Authority (CMA) argues that contracts with an outright ban on pets would be unenforceable as all reasonable requests and the specific circumstances should be considered. “We are unlikely to object to a term prohibiting the keeping of pets that could harm the property, affect subsequent tenants or be a nuisance to other residents,” says the CMA guidance.

So, can landlords ban pets, for example with a ‘no pets allowed’ clause in a tenancy agreement? The CMA objects to blanket exclusions on pets in rental contracts without consideration of all the circumstances. Such a term in the rental contract has also been considered unfair in comparable EU member states legislation because it could prevent a tenant, for example, keeping a goldfish.

Any legislation would need to be reasonable and proportionate to the circumstances. And there would need to be certain circumstances which make pets in rental properties exempt, such as a head lease which bans any occupier from having a pet, or if there are too many animals in relation to the size of the property.

The bottom line is that, although tenants can request to have pets in the property and the Government’s updated model tenancy agreement has consent for pets as the default position, landlords still have the final say on who they let their property out to.

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What are the advantages of allowing pets?

Responsible tenants with pets offer stability as they generally stay in a property for longer. Once they have found a welcoming home for themselves and their pet, they are often reluctant to move again as they risk facing the same dilemma, with other landlords also refusing to accept their pets. Given that pet friendly rental properties are few and far between, tenants are also often willing to pay more for them.

Up to 50 per cent of tenants have pets of one sort or another, so you are excluding a big slice of the market if you bar the most common types of pets – dogs and cats. What’s more, some tenants will breach their tenancy contract terms by introducing pets without telling the landlord, so it may be prudent to have them out in the open so that you have a greater degree of control – tenants won’t need to lie or sneak a pet in and you can agree on rules you’re both happy with.

What are the disadvantages of allowing pets in lets?

There’s no getting away from it, taking in an irresponsible tenant with unsuitable pets can be a real nightmare for landlords.

Dogs and cats, especially, can cause a lot of expensive damage: scratches on floorboards, chewed table legs and accidents on carpets which cause irremovable smells, as well as damage to lawns.

Being a responsible pet owning tenant involves a lot of work cleaning up mess and making sure dogs get regular exercise and cats have access to outside space, so they don’t get frustrated and take it out on the fittings. Some tenants may make the effort to restrict where their pets roam in the property, as well as controlling where they defecate and urinate, but this is not guaranteed.

Uncontrolled pets can cause neighbours to complain, particularly if there is constant noise or damage to their plants and trees. A new kitten might be the cutest little bundle of fur, but until they are fully trained, kittens can cause a lot of damage if not properly looked after and the scratches and smells can be horrendous.

Pets such as large dogs are usually not permitted in flats as tenants may be out all day and noise from barking is likely to disturb neighbours. If you own adjoining properties such as flats in a block, you may even lose other tenants. Some rental properties are simply unsuitable for pets.

What safeguards can you put in place?

Permitting lets with pets carries risks and may be inappropriate for some rental properties. But there are advantages to providing pet friendly rentals if your rental property is suitable. What safeguards can you put in place to manage the risks?


Pet clauses in tenancy agreements

A clear tenancy agreement is the cornerstone of a successful tenancy. It outlines your and your tenant’s responsibilities about how the property is to be kept and returned at the end of the tenancy and can prevent disputes arising in the future. It’s a good idea to insert a ‘pet clause’ into the tenancy agreement, stating whether pets are allowed in the property or not. Since consent for pets is such a topical issue, landlords need to offer clear written reasons for refusing a pet when a request is made and it’s a good idea to give this some thought before automatically prohibiting tenants from having a pet. If pets are permitted, the pet clause is an opportunity to provide details of the tenant’s responsibilities, such as not leaving the pet alone in the property for long periods of time and making sure that the pet has been vaccinated and treated for fleas and worms.


Regular property checks

Scheduling regular property checks can help avoid pet problems during a tenancy. Start of tenancy checks should include an inventory report on the condition of the property and its contents as well as signed and dated photographs which can be used at the end of the tenancy as a comparison. Regular mid tenancy property checks can help identify any signs of pet damage and are an opportunity to take photographs which can be used as evidence if there is a dispute at the end of the tenancy. Read more about check-in inventories, mid-term inspection reports and check-out reports in Inventories – our complete guide.


Vetting prospective tenants and their pets

It’s a good idea to meet any prospective tenant with their pet, ideally in their current home, so that you can get an idea of the pet’s temperament and see whether it is well behaved.

Pets of a certain age, and we’re usually talking about dogs and cats here, are less of a risk than young untrained animals.

It’s a really good idea, and recommended by the Dog’s Trust, to ask prospective tenants for a pet reference from a previous landlord.

The Dog’s Trust recommends these keys points to look for in a pet reference from a previous landlord:

–                How long did the tenant live in the previous property with their pets?

–                Which pets did they own at that time?

–                Does the referee consider the tenant to be a responsible pet owner?

–                Were the tenant’s pets well behaved?

–                Did their pets cause any damage to the property?

–                Did their pets cause a nuisance to neighbours or visitors?


It’s also important to make sure the animal has had all its vaccinations, evidence of which their vet can provide.

If the tenant hasn’t rented with their pet before, landlords could ask their vet for a reference, although not all vets will be prepared to supply one. If they are willing, in addition to confirming the pet’s vaccinations status they may also be able to confirm:

–               Whether the pet is generally well behaved

–               Whether the tenant could be considered a responsible pet owner

–               Whether the tenant provides regular exercise, preventive health care, vaccinations and flea treatments etc.

Protect your deposit today

If you have taken a cash deposit, you must protect it in a government authorised scheme within 30 calendar days

Rents for pets

Traditionally, landlords and letting agents have taken a higher deposit when letting to tenants with pets. Potentially, there’s a higher risk of damage and properties sometimes need to be professionally cleaned if pets have lived there. In extreme cases carpets, for example, need to be replaced and even a higher deposit may not be enough to cover the extra costs. You can read more about this in our case study on pets, replacement carpet and cleaning. But can landlords charge extra for pets?

Due to the potential increase in damage from a pet, and without the option to take an increased deposit or charge a non-refundable fee, as they used to before the tenant fee ban, it has become acceptable for landlords to advertise a property with an increased rent for a tenant with a pet. While still contentious, advertisements are now appearing on rental portals such as Rightmove which include charges of as much as £40-50 a month extra for dogs.

A recent report in The Guardian newspaper found that an increasing number of landlords are charging tenants around £50 a month extra for pets. One letting agent featured in the article said the practice of charging pet rent had only emerged after deposits were capped and that increasing the rent was the only way landlords could protect themselves without breaking the rules.

Suzy Hershman, Head of Dispute Resolution at mydeposits says: “It is interesting that tenants are happy to pay extra rent for pets to cover additional wear and tear and any likely damage involving repairs or replacement items, as well as cleaning at the end of the tenancy. However, this obviously raises the question of how much is enough to reasonably cover any likely damage, and how much is too much. Any increase must be clear and transparent in the advertised listing and be reasonable.”

Is pet damage insurance available?

Most landlord insurance policies don’t cover pets as standard. Insurance companies are conscious of the risks and the potential number of claims they may have to deal with if their policies also cover pets in rentals. If there’s a change in the law, and as renting with pets becomes more common, which is likely, more insurance policies covering pets will probably become available. Suzy Hershman adds, “It is worth mentioning that you cannot make a tenant take out a pet policy as this would be considered a fee and banned under the Tenant Fees Act 2019.”

Lets for pets in summary

An increasing number of tenants are requesting permission to keep pets. The pandemic and the increasingly popular ‘hybrid’ working pattern, suggest people have more time to commit to looking after their pets. Possible changes in the law that are currently in the pipeline will only strengthen their argument.

There’s an opportunity here for those landlords that may be willing to adapt and reconsider their previous stance. Putting safeguards in place such as requesting pet references and proposing a reasonable increase in rent for permitting the tenant to keep a pet could be of long-term benefit to all.