Here is a question to the blog clinic from Jonathan who is a a tenant
We live in a flat and recently got a small dog (‘Tilly’) that I take to visit my father who has dementia. He very rarely speaks now but responds positively to pet therapy.
We obtained permission from the property management in advance, however since then a resident has complained and the management company has told us we have to re-home our dog.
Tilly is a small three year old Norfolk terrier who we specially chose due to their friendly and quite nature. She very rarely barks and we are meticulous in walking her off site so she never fouls within the communal grounds.
Given the statement below from the OFT and the fact that the complaint is wholly unsubstantiated i.e. she has never shown any behaviour that could describe her as being a nuisance, my question is can we be forced to re-home our dog (who I would like to add we have grown to love very much) when there is no grounds to the complaint?
We can’t bear the thought of giving her up but at the same time are a little reluctant to spend 30 odd thousand pounds on stamp and moving costs just because someone has complained about her without providing any reason or justification.
We followed all the correct procedures with the management company and have even agreed not to replace her should the worst happen.
We also invited a member of the residents association to come and meet Tilly and explain she is ‘off site’ during the day and pretty sleeps / dozes all night. We even explained what a joy and benefit she is to my father, which we have a letter from the Alzheimer’s Society supporting this. However within a very short time it was clear that the association were simply anti dog saying they feared an “avalanche” of requests for dogs.
I should also mention that we have seen cats in the windows in some of the flats. Whilst we would never complain about these, it does seem a bit unfair that there is one rule for cats and another for dogs.
Any help and advice would be most gratefully received.
STATEMENT FROM THE OFT:
It’s also important to remember that 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 www.oft.gov.uk
I should start by saying that I do not generally advise on long lease issues, only on short lets. However I will make an exception in your case, but please can other readers note that long lease questions will not normally be answered.
The OFT statement
So far as the OFT statement is concerned, you have not given me the wording in your lease which prohibits pets so I cannot really see whether the guidance would apply or not.
There is also a slight question mark over whether the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations will apply to long leases. We know for sure that they apply to short lets, and I assume that they would also apply to long leases but cannot be sure of this.
However in your case you were relying on the permission given by the management company. My view is that you can’t be forced to get rid of the dog. There is a rule in English law known as ‘estoppel’ which says that you can’t stand by and allow someone to do something ‘to their detriment’ and then turn round and deny their right to do it.
So the management company, having agreed to allow you to have a dog, and watched you go out and actually get the dog, cannot (in my view) now force you to get rid of it.
The fact that they have agreed to one tenant keeping a dog does not necessarily mean that they HAVE to agree to everyone else having one. Your circumstances are different as the dog is used for therapy for your father.
If you had an AST
For the benefit of any assured shorthold tenants reading this, note that your situation is a bit different as an AST landlord always has the right to serve a section 21 notice on a tenant and end the tenancy. They do not have to give any reason for this.
It sounds to me that all the management company want to do is avoid trouble. They don’t really mind you having the dog so long as it does not cause problems with other residents.
So I suggest that you just keep your head down and make sure Tilly is as unobtrusive as possible. If no-body raises the issue again they may just let it go.
If they persist in asking for the dog to leave, then say that you are entitled to rely on their earlier permission under the legal rule of estoppel, and that it is too late for them to retract their permission now.
You could also point out that the ‘avalanche’ problem is unlikely to occur as you were given special leave to keep Tilly on humanitarian grounds as she is used for medical therapy for your father. This will not be the case for other residents asking to keep a dog, so your case should not prejudice their right to refuse permission to others (assuming they have the right to refuse permission – per the OFT statement).
If they persist in asking for the dog to go, you could also mention gently that if they do this you may have a claim for compensation and you may also feel compelled to go to the newspapers. However if they leave you alone you will make sure that Tilly does not cause any problems.
From what I remember of long leases however I don’t really think that there is anything they can do about it, other than bring expensive legal proceedings which I am sure they will not want.
It will be far easier for them to pacify the outraged resident by saying that this is an exceptional case and that no further permission for dogs will be given.
What does anyone else think?