Landlords and Letting Agencies Guide to Letting to Pet Owners

With around 45% of the population owning a pet and over 4 million households living in privately rented accommodation, opening your property up to tenants with pets will maximise its rental potential.

Wed 08 Mar 2017

By Judy

Landlords and Letting Agencies Guide to Letting to Pet Owners

The positives about letting property to pet owners

With around 45% of the population owning a pet and over 4 million households living in privately rented accommodation, opening your property up to tenants with pets will maximise its rental potential. By excluding pet owners you will be missing out on a huge chunk of the rental market, which makes no business sense.

By taking a positive attitude to pets you can:

  1. Increase demand for your property – with so few properties on the market that accept tenants with pets, your property will be in high demand. Pet-friendly properties are much sought after and won’t be vacant for long.
  2. Encourage tenants to stay for longer – pet owners know how difficult it is to find rented accommodation that allows pets so they are more likely to stay longer than tenants with no pets.
  3. Attract responsible tenants – responsible pet owners often make the most responsible tenants. The lack of rented accommodation for pet owners also means that tenants will be less likely to do anything to jeopardise their tenancy.

The Law regarding renting to pet owners

It’s also important to remember that the government department that was formerly the Office of Fair Trading considers a blanket ban on keeping pets in a property to be unfair under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. Therefore landlords should not include a “No Pets” clause in their standard tenancy agreement. The Office of Fair Trading believes that a fair clause would require the tenant to get the landlord’s consent before they bring pets into the property but the landlord should not unreasonably withhold their consent. For further information on these regulations please go to the relevant area of the Gov.UK website.

The special case of renting to owners of assistance dogs

Assistance dogs, such as guide dogs, hearing dogs, and dogs for disabled people, must be permitted by law in your property. The Disability Discrimination Act (2005) prohibits anyone who is renting or selling a property from discriminating against a disabled person. This includes discriminating against a person with an assistance dog.

Before letting your property to a pet owner

Check whether your property is freehold/leasehold

Before beginning to accept pets in a property, it’s important that you first check the title deeds. Even though the property is owned, there may be certain stipulations in the deeds which would prevent one from giving permission for tenants to keep pets. In the case of a freehold property (in England and Wales or Herritable property in Scotland), there may be restrictive covenants prohibiting animals from being kept at the property. However, such covenants are increasingly uncommon and often relate only to farm animals.

If dealing with a leasehold property, it’s important to study the terms of the lease to see whether there are any restrictions which would prevent accepting tenants with pets. If there are no such restrictions, a private landlord would normally be entitled to allow tenants to keep pets at his/her discretion. If the lease does restrict or prohibit the keeping of pets, you may wish to approach the freeholder to see whether they would be willing to change the terms of your lease. However, if your property is in a block of flats the freeholder would need the consent of all the leaseholders as their leases would also need to be changed.

If you own a share of the freehold and all the other freeholders are in agreement, you can change the lease to allow pets. You would need to contact a solicitor to do this for you. If in doubt about the nature of the property, always consult a solicitor.

Preventing problems with pet owning tenants

  • Speak to any prospective tenants about their pet before you decide whether to accept it. Every pet is different and you should make your decision on a case by case basis. In the case of dogs and cats you may also wish to meet them first, see them (and how they are kept currently) in their home environment. The Dogs Trust leaflet supplies a checklist of questions you should consider asking such as ‘will your dog be left at home for long periods?’ or ‘will your cat live inside, or will it need access to outside?’
  • Ask prospective tenants to supply you with a written reference for their pet from a previous landlord or veterinarian whenever possible. This will help you to ensure that the tenant is a responsible pet owner and the pet is well behaved.
  • Once you have given permission for a tenant to keep a pet in your property, you should include a pet policy clause in your standard tenancy agreement that refers specifically to the keeping of pets. Again see the Dogs Trust leaflet.
  • Higher deposit: You can ask your tenant for a higher deposit to cover any damage that may be caused by their pets. For example, if you normally ask for the equivalent of four weeks rent, you might ask for six weeks from pet owners. The money should be held in a recognised deposit scheme and only used to repair damage caused to the property/furnishings or to replace damaged items. The Government has contracted three companies to run tenancy deposit protection schemes. Further details about the schemes can be found on the website.
  •  Pet payment: You may also want to ask pet-owning tenants for a non-refundable pet payment to cover the cost of professionally cleaning the property once they have moved out. This would cover the cleaning of carpets, soft-furnishings and curtains. It’s good practice to provide the tenant with a written estimate for professionally cleaning your property so that they know the pet payment you are asking for is fair. Any pet payment taken by the landlord or letting agent should be taken at the start of the tenancy. Note that such a charge would not be legal in Scotland where administration feeds cannot be passed on to a tenant
  • It’s a good idea to ask pet-owning tenants to provide you with as much information as possible about their pet before they move in.

Remember that deciding that you are happy to accept pets in principle does not mean that you must accept every pet. The Dogs rust would recommend that you consider each tenant and their pet on a case by case basis. You should also think about how many pets you would want to accept in your property. It’s reasonable to limit the number of pets, depending on the size of your property, but remember that pets often benefit from living in pairs so do not automatically enforce a “one pet only” rule.

Once you have decided to allow pets, you, or your managing agent, should regularly inspect the property to ensure that any problems with pets can be dealt with early. It would also be wise to keep a record of who owns what pets, and to have contact numbers in case there is an issue with a pet in the tenant’s absence.

Should I let to Dangerous Dog owners?

Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 it is illegal for anyone to own or keep a Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino or Fila Brasilero, unless the dog is registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs - you should ask to see the paperwork if someone claims this exemption. If you believe that your tenant is keeping a dangerous dog illegally at your property, you should report it to the police or the local authority.

It is also an offence to allow any dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place. This includes instances where there is a fear that an injury may occur.

What should I do about pets who are neglected or abandoned in my property?

If you are concerned about the welfare of an animal kept in your property or you think that a previous tenant may have abandoned their pet, you should contact an animal welfare organisation immediately.In England & Wales you can report abandonment and neglect to the RSPCA, in Scotland to the SSPCA, in Ireland to the ISPCA and in Northern Ireland to the USPCA.

What about barking dogs bothering neighbours/other tenants?

If a dog kept in your property is barking and causing a nuisance to neighbours, you should insist that your tenant investigates the cause of the problem. Dogs bark for many different reasons, including excitement, fear, boredom, frustration, because they are guarding the home or because they cannot cope with being left alone. If the tenant is unable to solve the problem on their own, they should contact a veterinary surgeon, dog behaviourist or animal welfare organisation for advice.

Preventing flea infestations from dogs and cats in your property

Pets that receive regular preventative treatment rarely get fleas. Flea treatments are available from veterinary practices for dogs, cats and rabbits. Dogs and cats also need to be regularly wormed as part of their healthcare routine. If you are concerned about whether your tenant’s pets have been treated for fleas and worms, ask to see copies of their treatment records.

If there is a flea infestation in your property, you can buy a flea spray that is specifically designed to treat homes. Once you have treated the property, you should also shampoo and vacuum the carpets, curtains and sofas. If you have a serious flea infestation, you should consult a pest control company.

What about dog fouling?

Responsible owners ensure that dogs are toilet trained as puppies so fouling inside the property should not be a problem if you vetted the tenant well to start with, unless there is a crisis in your tenants life - in their health for example which prevents them being able to properly care for their pet.

Dog owners are legally responsible for cleaning up after their dogs when they foul in a public place. Cat fouling is not covered by any law but tenants with cats (and house rabbits) should provide them with a litter tray indoors. Cats should be discouraged from fouling in neighbours’ gardens. Tenants must always clean up after their pets in the garden or communal areas.

What about odours caused by pets?

Tenants must keep the property clean and odour-free by regularly cleaning their pets’ habitats. Dogs must not be allowed to foul inside the property, and cats and indoor rabbits must use a litter tray that is regularly emptied. All cats, dogs and indoor rabbits must be house trained. You may stipulate that dogs should not be allowed to toilet in communal garden areas.

What about future tenants in the property who have pet allergies?

It’s possible that tenants with pet allergies may move into a property where pets have previously lived. However, as long as the property has been cleaned, vacuumed and aired thoroughly they should not experience any problems.

Dogs Trust’s Lets with Pets campaign aims to help pet owners find privately rented accommodation with their pets. We have put together advice for pet owners on how to find pet-friendly accommodation as well as information for landlords and letting agents on managing properties with pets. Read more on the site about the Lets with Pets Scheme.

Article by: The Pet Owners Association – based with the kind permission of Dogs Trust from their Lets with Pets booklet, ‘Renting to Pet Owners’