Letting to Tenants with Pets

Contents:


Introduction

They say that almost half the population in Britain has a pet of some sort. However most landlords and letting agents routinely prohibit pets in their properties.

The main reasons for this are the potential damage that pets can cause to the property, the risk of flea infestation, and the potential costs and additional work involved in preparing it for a new tenant after the departure of the pet owning tenant.

But is always a good idea? Would it not be more cost-effective sometimes to let to tenants with pets? Consider the following:

The majority of pet owners are law abiding people who look after their pets responsibly, however:

  • 78% of pet owners, according to a recent survey by the Dogs Trust, have experienced difficulty in  finding accommodation which accepts pets
  • 54% were never able to find a suitable property, and
  • 8% had to re-home their pet

What this means is that in most cases, if those law abiding pet owners are able to find accommodation which allows pets, they will be so grateful that they will make every effort to be an exemplary tenant. The sort of tenant who always pays their rent on time and cares for the property as if it were theirs.  In fact the sort of tenant you want.

Of course some properties will not be suitable for pets, and many landlords may still feel that the potential problems that pets can cause are not worth the risk.

However those landlords who do allow pets will normally find that it is considerably easier to fill their properties and that once in, tenants stay for a longer time (avoiding voids).

This article considers renting to pet owners, and provides information and guidance.

There is also information about the special pet agreement and information form which is available on the Landlord Law site for members use.

Note: Some of the information in this article is reproduced with the kind permission of Dogs Trust. For further information on Dog Trust’s Lets with Pets® campaign, please go to  www.letswithpets.org.uk

Is renting to pet owners an option for your property?

This is the first thing to consider.

Leasehold properties

If your property is leasehold, you will need to check your lease to make sure that pets are allowed. If they are, then you should be entitled to let to tenants with pets.

If the lease prohibits pets, then you would need to get your lease changed first. You could have a word with your freeholder about this. If the property is in a large block of flats, getting the lease changed will be difficult, as the other leaseholders would have to be consulted.

If there are only a few other leaseholders though, particularly if you all also own part of the freehold, you may be able to get agreement, in which case you would need to get a solicitor to deal with the amendments to the leases (note - this is not something we can do at Landlord Law).

Freehold properties

If the property is freehold there is far less likely to be a problem. Some may have restrictive covenants prohibiting animals but these are rare and generally are aimed at farm animals such as pigs, rather than domestic pets.

If there are no legal problems You then need to consider 

  • whether you will allow pets at all. If the answer to this is yes, you then need to consider 
  • what types of pet you will allow. Then 
  • you need to consider each prospective tenant and his pet on a case by case basis

Having decided that you will consider tenants with pets, let us now look at the different types of pets you may be faced with.
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The most popular types of pet

This is not an exclusive list but most common types of pet you are likely to be asked about are as follows:

Dogs

Dogs are the most popular pet in the UK and are also the most common type of pet objected to by landlords. A dog can do a lot of damage to a property, and excessive barking is very annoying to neighbours. However where there is a responsible owner and the dog is cared for properly this is not likely to happen. 

One of the main things to avoid is dogs being left alone in the property for long periods. It is then that they are most likely bark and cause damage.

Before taking in a tenant with a pet dog, you need to find out whether this is likely to happen. The Dogs Trust recommends that dogs are not left alone for more than four hours at a time, so this has been included as a term in the Landlord Law pet agreement form.

Note that if neighbours complain about excessive barking, you should insist that your tenant
investigate this. They will probably be unaware of it as the barking will be done while they are out, generally because the dog is bored or frustrated or generally unhappy about being left alone.

If they are unable to resolve the problem themselves, you should insist that they contact a
veterinary surgeon, dog behaviourist or animal welfare organisation for advice. If you often let to tenants with dogs, you could even compile a list of suitable local organisations they could speak to.

Provided their owners give them sufficient exercise, there is no reason why dogs should not be kept in flats or houses without gardens. However, each case must be assessed individually. For example large dogs in small flats will not be appropriate (whereas a small dog may be) and older dogs with mobility problems should not be kept in upper story flats with no lifts.

All dogs should be toilet trained as puppies so there should be no problem with fouling inside the property. Dogs will normally toilet in the garden or during walks, and it is the responsibility of the dog owner to clear up after them.

Dogs should be vaccinated annually against canine distemper, infectious hepatitis, leptospirosis, parovirus, parainfluenza and kennel cough. The Landlord Law pets agreement provides for tenants to obtain a vet's certificate after vaccinations and to provide a copy to you on request.

There is quite a lot of law on dogs - for more information on this, see the very helpful fact sheet from the Dogs Trust which you can download (together with many other useful pdfs) from here.

Assistance dogs.

Finally in the dogs section, note that assistance dogs, such as guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for deaf people, and dogs for disabled people, must be permitted by law in your property.

The disability legislation prohibits anyone renting or selling a property from discriminating against a disabled person, and this includes discriminating against a person with an assistance dog.

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Cats

Cats are also extremely popular pets. However they are far less trouble than dogs, and it is often acceptable for them to be left behind when their owners go on holiday, provided there is a neighbour willing to feed them.

They are independent animals and generally spend a lot of time roaming around outside. However this However this does not mean that they cannot be kept in flats. It depends on the cat. Some cats are also better kept inside, for example if they are old or ill.

Cats should be given a litter tray, otherwise they are likely to infuriate neighbours by digging up their gardens (and often their most prized plants).  If a scratching post and toys are provided they are less likely to scratch furniture and carpets. If you know that your tenants will be keeping a cat, you might want to provide one.

Cats can be vaccinated annually against feline infectious enteritis, cat flue, feline leukaemia virus, and feline chlamydopilosis. However many cats do live long and healthy lives with no visits whatsoever to the vet other than for spaying.

The Landlord Law pets agreement requires cats to wear a ‘snap apart’ collar to enable them to be identified, and to be microchipped.

Birds

Budgerigars are the most popular pet birds in the UK, however, there are many other birds which can be kept, ranging from small finches to large parrots.

Birds are intelligent animals and need stimulation, for example with mirrors and toys. They are also sociable and should not be kept alone unless their owner is with them for most of the day to keep them company.

They should also be allowed time to fly and stretch their wings once a day, although under supervision.  It is illegal to keep a bird in a cage in which it cannot fully stretch its wings in every direction.

Fish

Fish rarely cause problems, and therefore are often accepted by landlords who would not agree to other types of pet.

Some aquariums can be very large so, if so, you will need to ensure that your tenant has a suitable stand to put it on and that it is sited appropriately.

The ‘pet details’ of the Landlord Law pet agreement are not really designed for fish, so you
will have to complete them as best you can. It will not normally be appropriate to list every fish (particularly as they often do not live very long).

Perhaps just indicate the approximate number and breed of fish and the size of the aquarium. Alternatively, you could consider having a side letter confirming your permission. However, you should still make sure you take the name and address of someone who will look after the fish in case of emergency.

Small furry animals

This includes hamsters, gerbils, and pet rats. They will be particularly popular with tenants with children.

They will need a cage or other suitable housing system, which must be large enough for the size and number of pets kept.  They will need toys, chews, digging and nesting material, and (unless their enclosure is very large) supervised exercise outside their cage, as a wheel or
ball alone is not sufficient.

Rabbits

These can be kept either indoors or outdoors provided they have suitable hutches. They are sociable animals and should be kept in pairs or more. However, as they are ferocious breeders (and sometimes fighters) it is probably best to have them neutered.

Outdoor rabbits should be provided with a suitable run for exercise, and indoor rabbits should also be allowed sufficient exercise, as well as toys, chews etc.

Indoor rabbits can be trained to use a litter tray.  However be warned that they are great chewers, so tenants should be told to keep them away from the TV and other wires and cables if allowed to run around inside.

Rabbits can be vaccinated annually against myxomatosis and viral hemorrhagic disease.

Guinea Pigs

These should generally be kept outside in a cage and run. They are not normally very interested in toys but will enjoy having lots of space to run around in and boxes and tubes to explore and hide in.

Exercise outside the cage should be under supervision. They are best kept in pairs or small groups of their own kind. They should not be kept with rabbits as rabbits have powerful hind legs which can cause them injury.

Exotic pets

These include things like tortoises, lizards, spiders and snakes.

Like all animals, these need adequate space to live and grow in, as well as a suitable natural
environment. Some, such as snakes and iguanas grow very big.

You need to be careful about allowing a tenant to keep these pets as they often require specialist care. Make sure that your tenants know and understand the needs of these pets, and question them carefully about them before making up your mind.

General law on pets

(For laws specific to dogs see the Dogs Trust fact sheet.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006. This places a duty of care on all pet owners to provide for their pets basic needs, including adequate food and water, exercise, a suitable place to live and access to veterinary treatment. Under the Act, an animal does not have to suffer for its owners to be prosecuted for a welfare offence.

The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. This regulates how wild animals are kept by individuals. Animals which are deemed to be dangerous, such as crocodiles, monkeys, and venomous snakes, need a license from the local authority.

The Animals Act 1971. Under this act an owner or person responsible for any animal must
take care to ensure that it does not cause any injury or damage.  The owner can be held liable for any damage caused.

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Some other general points on pets.

This section looks at other common questions and problems associated with pets in properties.

Neglected or abandoned pets.

If you have reason to believe that the pet in your property has been abandoned, then you should contact an animal welfare organisation.organisation.

In England and Wales, this will probably be the RSPCA. The Landlord Law pets agreement specifically provides for this, so your tenant cannot complain!

It is probably worth mentioning here that if you evict a tenant via the County Court bailiffs and an animal is left in the property, it is your responsibility to deal with it, not the bailiffs.

Fleas and worms.

Pets that receive regular treatment rarely get fleas (according to the Dogs Trust guide). If you are concerned, you should ask to see copies of your tenants' pets treatment records from their vet. The Landlord Law pets agreement provides for you to do this.

If after the tenant has left, you find that the property has been infested, it is probably best to call in a professional pest control company.

Note that the cost of this is something you can deduct from the tenancy deposit.

Pet fouling and odours.

If owners have trained their pets properly, and litter trays are provided with the litter changed regularly for pets kept inside, this should not be a problem.  The Landlord Law pets agreement provides for tenants to be responsible for this.

You should arrange to inspect the property at least quarterly. If you find that tenants are not looking after the property and are allowing pets to mess inside, then probably the only option is to serve a section 21 notice and threaten eviction if they do not deal with this.

The tenancy deposit should cover the cost of cleaning, provided things have not been allowed to deteriorate too far. However, if you are doing regular inspections this should not happen.

Tenants with pet allergies.

Many landlords are reluctant to take tenants with pets as this may affect subsequent tenants who may have allergies. However, if the property has been adequately cleaned, vacuumed and aired properly after the pets have left, this should not be a problem.

If your property is an HMO with tenants renting individual rooms or living in close proximity, then if any of the tenants have been allowed to keep their pets, you need to make this very clear to prospective new tenants, preferably in writing so they cannot say that you did not warn them.

Checking prospective tenants with pets

1. Speak to them.

You should always discuss their pets in detail with prospective new tenants. Use the checklist you will find at the end of this article as a guide and make notes.

2. Take a reference.

Ideally, you need to take a reference from a former landlord, where the tenant lived with his pets. Key points you should ask about are:

  • How long the tenant lived in the property with his pets
  • What pets they owned at that time 
  • Does the referee consider the tenant to be a responsible pet owner 
  • Were the pets well behaved 
  • Did they cause any damage to the property 
  • Did they cause nuisance to neighbours or visitors

If may be however that a previous landlords reference is not possible, for example, if they have never rented before or if the pet is new. Here you can obtain a reference from their veterinary surgeon. Keys points to ask here are:

  • Are the tenants' pets generally well behaved?
  • Does the veterinary surgeon consider the tenant to be a responsible pet owner?
  • Does the tenant provide routine preventative health care, such as vaccinations and flea treatments, for their pets, where appropriate?

3. Meet the tenant with his pet.

This is a good opportunity for you to see for yourself what temperament the animal has and how well behaved it is. Ideally, you should see them in their current home.

If you don’t know much about animals you can always have someone with you who does, who you can ask for a second opinion.

4. Carry out all other normal checks and referencing.

The checks discussed here are in addition to not instead of your usual referencing and credit checks on prospective tenants.

5. Confirm that someone will be willing to look after the pet(s) in case of emergency.

You will need a name and address and contact details for the pets section in the tenancy
agreement. However before signing the tenant up, I would suggest you get in touch with this person yourself and just satisfy yourself that they are willing to do this (after all if the tenant has a serious accident and is hospitalised, someone will have to look after it – and I am sure you would rather it was not you!).

Ideally, you should get written confirmation.

6. Consider the suitability of the pet for your particular property.

For example, a small dog in a small house may be fine, but not a large one. Cats used to roaming the neighbourhood will not appreciate being shut up in a flat all day (and could cause damage). 

Think also about good relations with your neighbours. If the owner of the house next door is a fanatical gardener, he may not be pleased if a lady with five cats moves in next door! 

The fact that you have decided to allow tenants with pets does not mean that you should accept every pet.

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Using the Landlord Law Pets Agreement and Information Form

If you decide that the tenant will be suitable for you, then you can use the Landlord Law pets agreement. This article will look at how to use this.

NB You will find the form >> here.

Deposit and pet payment

It is important that you have adequate provision for potential pet damage as this is not normally covered by insurance policies, such as contents insurance and landlords insurance,

It is generally accepted by tenants that a landlord will ask for a higher deposit where the tenant has a pet which is potentially destructive, such as a dog or a cat. 

If the pet is of a type where it is reasonable to assume that you will need to have the property
professionally cleaned after the tenant vacates, you could also ask for a non-refundable pet payment. This can be added to the 'additional clauses' box - you will find guidance and wording you can use on document generator completion form.

The deposit will need to be held in a government authorised tenancy deposit scheme in the normal way (unless the tenancy is a common law one, for example, if there is a resident landlord or the annual rent is over £100,000).

If you are completing the pet form for an existing tenant and it is agreed that they will pay an additional sum towards the deposit - make sure that this gets protected too!

However, if you are taking a pet payment which is non-refundable, this does not have to be protected in a scheme. Note that when the tenant goes, you will not be able to claim anything from the deposit for cleaning if you have taken a pet payment unless the condition of the property was such that extra work was needed making the pet payment inadequate.

The Pet details

The form has provision for details for two pets (eg a cat and a dog). If there are more, these can either be set out in an ‘additional clauses’ section at the end.

I have already discussed the importance of getting the name of someone willing to look after the pet(s) in case of emergency. You will also need the Vet’s details here.

The pet terms and conditions

I would suggest that you also sit down with the tenant and go over with them the terms and
conditions of the pets agreement,  In particular, you should make it clear:

  • That they are only being authorised to keep the specific pets agreed – if they want to keep any more they must ask you first 
  • They are responsible for looking after the pet properly. If you consider it is being neglected or ill used, you will report them to the RSPCA
  • If the pet does not go with them, for example on holiday, they must board it or make proper arrangements for its care while they are away 
  • They must make sure it is vaccinated property, get written confirmation of this from their vet and show this to you if you ask They are responsible for making sure the pet does not damage anything in the property and is not a nuisance to neighbours.

During the tenancy

It is particularly important with tenants with pets that you keep an eye on the property and carry out regular inspections.

These should normally be done quarterly, and will allow you to make sure that the pet is being looked after responsibly and (most important) is not causing any damage to your valuable property. In most cases, it should be fine.

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Conclusion

If you are careful with your choice, there is no reason why people with pets should not prove to be excellent tenants who will look after your property well and always pay on time. Even if the pet does cause some slight damage, or the property requires extra cleaning on the tenant's departure, if a larger deposit is taken together with a pet payment, you should not normally suffer any financial loss.

As so many landlords routinely refuse pets, you will probably find that you have a far greater pool of potential tenants to choose from, if you state in your advertisement that pets are allowed. Many pet owners are pleasant, responsible people who will make excellent long-term tenants.

Using the Landlord Law pet agreement will provide the perfect tool to protect both you and the animal.

Useful websites:

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