It’s a subject that is often in the headlines, and continues to divide landlords. Pets in rental properties. Some landlords are open to them, while others prefer to opt for a blanket ban. On National Pet Day, in an article first published in the RLA’s Residential Property Investor magazine, Victoria Barker investigates the benefits and potential drawbacks of allowing pets in your rental homes.
If you had to have a guess at which pet is the most likely to be accepted by landlords, what would you say?
Here’s a clue: It’s not anything with fur, a felt nose or four legs.
Research from an online flatshare website has found FISH are the pets that landlords surveyed said they would be most likely to accept (68%).
By comparison, the next most popular pet for landlords to accept are cats with 32% reporting they would allow this.
It has now developed a think tank, which it hopes will generate new ideas and policies that could encourage more landlords to accept pets in rented homes.
It’s not the first time that a campaign like this has been launched, with several animal welfare charities in recent years, such as Cats Protection, Dogs Trust and the RSPCA running similar campaigns for ‘pet friendly’ tenancies.
‘Responsible and reasonable
The most recent of these campaigns was in November 2018, when Cats Protection launched a campaign called ‘Purrfect Landlords”, and called for a tenancy agreement that encourages responsible and reasonable pet ownership.
The Cats Protection campaign coincided with research from the charity-that found less than half – 42% of landlords – allow pets in their rental home.
So, are landlords’ perceptions of pets changing? And what are the main benefits and concerns in allowing pets in properties?
Cardiff based landlord Ffion Paschalis recently gave permission for one of her tenants to keep a pet in her rental property, after she was concerned that her tenant could become lonely.
Ffion is a landlord with two rental homes in Cardiff, and she is also a letting agent in the city.
While the vast majority of her clients at the letting agents where she works wont consider pets, Ffion is open to the idea of allowing tenants in her own properties to keep pets.
“A few months ago a tenant who has been with me for two years asked me for permission to keep a pet”, says Ffion. “At first I was a little bit reluctant to agree to it, because I have seen for myself the damage that pets can sometimes cause to properties, leading to large cleaning bills.”
“Having said that, on this occasion I agreed to allowing my tenant to keep a cat in the property.
“She is a single mum and her son has recently started a new job which requires him to work long hours, so she is often in the house on her own.
“When she asked me for permission, she said that keeping a pet would help keep her company.
“Added to which she is an excellent tenant, and I want her to feel comfortable as it is her home, so that’s why I agreed. She was thrilled when I told her”.
The benefits of pets
There are many benefits for landlords and tenants alike when it comes to allowing and keeping pets.
Paul Smith is the public affairs manager at the RSPCA. He says that landlords who offer pet friendly tenancies could find it proves very rewarding.
“Nearly half of all households in England and Wales have a pet, so being that landlords who is pet friendly is rewarding”, says Paul.
“Research has shown tenants who are given permission to look after a pet in their rental property stay longer.
“There are also a range of mental and physical benefits for tenants in keeping pets.”
There’s more. There is growing amounts research that allowing pets could lead to increased profitability, with tenants even willing to pay more in rent for their four legged friend.
A study by property management company LSL in 2017 ranked a list of things that tenants would be willing to pay more for.
Being allowed to keep a pet came top of the list, with 28% of tenants saying they would be willing to pay more for this – trumping high speed internet and parking.
Echoing the findings of this study, Spareroom.co.uk found that 53% of tenants who already own a pet pay between £10 and £49 extra rent each month to allow for their pet to live with them.
Deposits, the law and other policies
Sounds good, you may think, but there is one factor that could reduce landlord’s confidence about lets with pets.
Specifically, this is the ability to charge a higher deposit for pet/s in a property.
Currently, most landlords who accept pets also charge a higher deposit, and for many landlords including Ffion in Cardiff, this contributes significantly to their final decision.
Ffion said: “If I was not able to charge a higher deposit for my tenant who requested to own a pet, then I wouldn’t have considered it.
“Owning a pet can come with additional risks and I want to take a larger deposit and plan ahead so that I am prepared if something happened to go wrong”.
However, landlords in England will soon be prevented from charging a higher deposit if their tenant asks to keep a pet.
The issue of deposits made headlines at the end of last year, when the government formally tabled an amendment in the Tenant Fees Bill (in England) to cap the security deposit for most tenancies to five weeks worth of rent.
The amendment was approved, but the RLA raised concerns at the time, warning that the cap (which was originally set a six weeks) could mean tenants with pets, especially more than one pet would find it harder to find a property to rent.
In February last year, the topic of pets in rental properties once again made headlines, when the Labour Party put forward a proposal that would see tenants given the ‘default right’ to keep a pet in a rental property, unless there is evidence that a pet would be a nuisance.
The proposal was met with caution by the RLA, and at the time the RLA wrote a letter to Shadow DEFRA Secretary Sue Hayman MP, highlighting some of its concerns and asking a number of questions about the proposal.
These included whether the policy would apply to both social and private landlords, and what would the position be in respect of blocks of flats where the leaseholder might prohibit pets.
Pets – a claws for concern for landlords?
Much has been stated about the benefits of owning pets, so why is it then that so many landlords still opt for a blanket ban on animals?
Research has shown that one of the main reasons why landlords don’t accept pets relates to concerns about damage that could potentially be caused to their property.
Last year, a study by Spareroom.co.uk of 1,261 landlords found that 69% said they don’t allow pets in their property due to concerns about smell and potential damage a pet may cause.
Aurora Jones is a landlord in the West Midlands. While she has always had a ban on pets in her properties, five years ago she was asked by a couple living in one of her rented homes for permission to foster two cats for a three months.
Aurora agreed, knowing it was a decision that would end up costing her hundreds of pounds.
“Initially the tenants asked me if they could foster a mother cat and a kitten for twelve weeks. They were a professional couple and I didn’t see the harm in it just for three months, so I agreed”, says Aurora.
However, two years later, not only had the tenants not kept to their word about keeping the two cats in the property temporarily, Aurora discovered that four more cats were now living at there – permanently.
“I was completely shocked when I discovered half a dozen cats living at the property”, says Aurora. “From doing inspections, I already knew that the tenants had kept on the two cats permanently but I turned a blind eye to it. It was when the tenants began to refuse to let me or tradespeople into the property that I became suspicious.
Unfortunately, by the time the cats were discovered, damage to the property had already been done.
“The house smelt like a poorly maintained public toilet – there was a strong smell of cat urine throughout the whole house, but the tenants must have been used to it because they said they couldn’t smell anything”, she says.
Aurora says that the tenants stayed on for a further two years, before moving out, and leaving her with an expensive clean up bill.
“After the tenants had moved out, I found that some of the damage had been hidden, for example stains on the walls for hidden by a bookcase and damage to the sofa covered up by cushions. After those tenants, the property sat empty for a year because I just couldn’t face cleaning it up”.
As a result of her experience, Aurora says that she now only considers allowing smaller animals in her properties, such as fish.
Another factor that landlords take into consideration before allowing pets in the welfare of the animal. In some cases, a property simply may not be suitable for an animal to live in.
Sue Gilbert is a landlord in Huddersfield. She sometimes allows pets in her rental properties, but she assesses each request carefully before doing so.
She said: “I let bedsits and small flats and do occasionally allow pets by prior agreement.
“A few years ago, I had a tenant who had a charming small dog. They left, but the fleas didn’t. Fleas aren’t easy to spot and my next tenant was bitten before I even knew of the problem, so this has made me reluctant to allow dogs in the future.
“For me, a big consideration as to whether I will allow a tenant to have a pet is the welfare of the animal”, continues Sue, adding “If I was asked to allow large dogs in one of my small flats or bedsits, the restrictions would be unsuitable for a dog, so I would not be comfortable doing this”.
Support for landlords who allow pets in properties
In order to address some of the concerns that landlords may have about pets in their property, the RSPCA has recently developed a new policy for landlords when it comes to keeping pets.
The policy includes advice for landlords on pets, and sample template letters for landlords to send to a tenant on the acceptance or the refusal of a pet being allowed.
There is both a standard pet policy for private landlords in England, and in Wales. It can accessed on the RSPCA’s website here.
Paul at the RSPCA says that the charity listened to the concerns of landlords to develop the policy.
“We understand that sometimes, things don’t always work out. When we began to develop the policy, we visited many landlord forums and really listened to the concerns that some landlords have when it comes to allowing pets”, says Paul.
“The policy we have developed is best practice guidance, and it’s all about making sure that all parties are satisfied. It accounts for things like the landlord may want to carry out more inspections if a tenant has a pet”.
Other things for landlords to consider
- Do consider the welfare of the animal. For example, if you rent out a small flat with no garden and the tenant is out at work all day, it may not be appropriate to allow them to keep a large dog in the property.
- Landlords should make it clear to the tenant that they are agreeing to allowing a pet on the condition of good behaviour, and making it clear to the tenant when agreeing to the tenant that the landlords consent can be withdrawn at any time if there is reasonable cause for it
- Carry out more inspections at the property
- When granting permission, landlords should make the tenant aware in writing that they expect to rectify any damage caused by the pet before they leave the property. This applies even if a larger deposit has been taken-clear communication is key prior to the exit if you find yourself needing to deduct from the deposit.
- If the property is leasehold, then landlords should check the lease first to double check if this is allowed
- It could be a good idea to check insurance terms too.