A recent news item found that consent to keep a pet was the fourth most important fact for tenants looking for a rented property.
However, landlords regularly prohibit pets considering them to be too much trouble and worried about potential damage to their properties.
If a Labour government gets in though, landlords may have no choice in the matter as one of the proposals they have is to strengthen tenants rights to keep a pet.
So what can landlords do, if they agree or are forced to accept pets, to protect their position?
Before you accept a tenant with a pet
First, you need to check that pets are allowed for your property. For example, if you are renting a leasehold flat, there may be a covenant in your lease forbidding pets. So check this out first.
You should also check out your mortgage and insurance policy.
You then need to consider the type of pet your prospective tenant wishes to keep and whether it will be suitable for your property.
Types of pet
First – if your tenant has an assistance dog, such as a guide dog, this must be permitted by law. However, these dogs will usually be very well trained and should not cause a problem for you.
Dogs are the most popular type of pet but can also be the most destructive. Barking dogs can also be very annoying for neighbours.
So you need to make sure that the proposed dog is well trained and, most important, that it will not be left for long periods alone in the property. The Dogs Trust recommends that dogs should not be left alone for periods of more than four hours.
Provided they are given sufficient exercise there is no reason why a dog should not live in a relatively small house or flat, but be sensible about it. For example, large energetic dogs should not be kept in small flats and dogs with mobility problems should not be kept in upper storey flats without lifts.
Cats are generally far less trouble than dogs and can also often be left in the property when their owners go on holiday so long as someone can come once a day to feed them.
Cats are very independent animals and generally like to roam around outside. So generally the property will need access to the outdoors and a cat flap. However some cats are happy living indoors – it really depends on the cat.
Budgerigars are the most popular pet bird in the UK but many other birds are kept ranging from small finches to large parrots.
They should not be left alone for long periods as they are intelligent animals which need stimulation. If they become too lonely they may start to pull their feathers out.
Be aware also that some birds can be surprisingly noisy. We had a parrot once which would regularly have loud screeching sessions which could only be stopped by covering up the cage. This would not be a good idea in a thin-walled building with lots of close neighbours.
Fish are probably the least problematic type of pet and most landlords will be happy to allow a fish tank when they would baulk at a cat or dog.
Other pet types include small furry animals ranging from mice to rabbits, and more ‘exotic’ pets such as lizards and snakes.
Checking prospective tenants with pets
You need to be sure that the animal will be well cared for and will not be left alone for long periods in the property – as that is often (particularly with dogs) when problems arise.
Make sure that dogs and cats are microchipped and have collars with the animals name and address. They should have had all the necessary injections and be treated for fleas regularly.
You also need to get the name and address of someone who will care for the animal if the tenant can’t – for example if he goes into hospital. Otherwise, under law this will be your responsibility. Make sure you contact this person and make sure that they are happy to do this if necessary.
If is a good idea, if possible, to visit the tenant in his current accommodation and see the pet. You could also ask referees (such as former landlords and personal referees) about the pet and its behaviour.
The fact that you agree to accept pets does not mean that you will accept ANY pet!
Formalities and paperwork
Landlords often take an additional deposit or ‘pet payment’ to cover any damage done by the pet, but once the tenant fee ban bill is passed this will no longer be possible. An alternative would be to increase the rent slightly. Tenants may well be agreeable to this if it means that they can keep their pet.
You also need to incorporate suitable terms and conditions into your tenancy agreement – for example requiring the tenant to care for the pet properly, not leave it alone for long periods, and to ensure that it is microchipped and given suitable inoculations etc.
At Landlord Law we have a special ‘pets form’ which can be used with any tenancy agreement. This form will give details of the permitted pet and sets out detailed terms and conditions relating to the pets occupation and treatment by the tenant.
It should be made clear, for example, that the pet should not cause a nuisance to neighbours and that if you suspect that the animal has been ill-treated, neglected or abandoned you will notify an appropriate animal welfare organisation.
This pet form can be used either at the start of the tenancy or later on if you agree to allow a pet part way through a tenancy, in which case the form serves as an amendment to the main tenancy agreement.
You can find out more about our tenancy agreement service here.
People with pets often make excellent tenants. They are grateful to have found somewhere they can live with their pet and will usually want to stay a long time.
However, you need to be sure that the proposed pet is suitable for your particular property and ensure that your paperwork gives you sufficient protection should anything go wrong.