Having spoken twice on the radio on Pet Rents (BBC4 You and Yours and Radio Kent) it’s probably about time I wrote about this here.
But what are pet rents? Surely it’s not expecting the pets to pay for their own accommodation?
Let’s take a look at the whole situation with pets.
The problem with pets
We are (supposedly) an animal-loving nation and a large proportion of us have pets. Cats, dogs budgies, rabbits, even snakes sometimes.
Having a pet is often good for us. Lonely people, in particular, get a lot of comfort from their pet and they can help with mental health problems.
However, they can also be destructive. Sometimes very destructive. And although you can train many pets (although not all of them) you can’t reason with them.
You can’t say “Look here Bonzo, this isn’t our house – so don’t scratch the furniture”. If Bonzo feels like scratching the furniture he will,
Pets also often carry fleas and other pests and parasites which can then infest the property (which can be expensive to eradicate) and many people are allergic to certain animals.
Which means that when a landlord takes in a tenant with a pet – he is taking a bit of a risk. He may have to shell out large sums of money at the end of the tenancy to put the property back into a proper condition.
What used to happen
Now what used to happen was that landlords would take an extra deposit from the tenant with a pet. Sometimes also a ‘pet payment’ to cover the end of tenancy cleaning.
This gave the landlord extra security to deal with all but the worst damage done by pets and the tenants got the money back if no damage was actually done.
Tenants normally did not have a problem with this as they were grateful to have found somewhere they could live with their pet.
Then came the Tenant Fees Act 2019 (in England).
The Tenant Fees Act
This is the act which was brought in to stop the horrendous fees being charged by many agents to tenants.
However, under pressure from organisations such as Generation Rent and Shelter, the government also decided to reduce the allowable tenancy deposit too. Landlords can now charge no more than five weeks worth of rent as a tenancy deposit.
Now, this may be sufficient for a normal tenancy but five weeks worth of rent is not considered sufficient where the tenant is keeping a potentially destructive pet. Normally a landlord would have been looking to take between six to eight weeks worth of rent in those circumstances.
But now they can’t. If they do, they can be prosecuted and fined, and tenants can claim back the extra money via an application to the First-Tier Tribunal.
So what can landlords do? They take a ‘pet rent’.
The Tenant Fees Act is very restrictive. It says that landlords can charge nothing at all other than permitted fees. The permitted fees include rent and a few specific fees (which do not include pets) plus the five weeks worth deposit.
So really the only flexibility to charge for pets is in the rent.
What most landlords and agents who charge pet rents are doing, I understand, is taking whatever they would have charged extra as deposit, dividing this by 12 and adding it to the rent.
Before you ask, they can’t then refund that money to tenants at the end of the tenancy as that would make it a deposit – and they would be in trouble for failing to protect it. Landlords also cannot charge a higher rent in any one month – it has to be the same for every month.
What can tenants do?
Not a lot really. A landlord is perfectly entitled to prohibit pets (so long as the clause is properly drafted) and is legally entitled to charge a higher rent if the tenant is prepared to pay this.
If tenants stay a long time in a property and it is clear that the pet has not caused and is not likely to cause any major damage, they could ask the landlord if he could consider reducing the rent down to the non pet rate – particularly as after 12 months the landlord would have recovered the additional deposit money they would previously have taken (and are able to keep it).
The landlord may or may not agree to this but it’s worth trying.
Then there are alternative deposit products which can cover landlords for more than the allowable five weeks rent. However these are not insurance products and so if the pet does cause damage, the tenant will still have to pay for this, and will probably be pursued by debt collectors until he does.
The market needs a proper pet insurance product that tenants can buy to cover damage done by their pet, which will protect both them and the landlord. Whether such a product is possible I don’t know.
When I was on the radio there were two points put to me. The first was that we don’t increase rent where there are children in a property (who can be equally destructive) so why pets?
The answer I suppose is that larger deposits have traditionally been taken for pets. Also, children don’t normally carry fleas or cause allergic reactions as pets do.
The other objection was that charging pet rents went against the spirit of the Tenant Fees Act. Well, it may do, but it is not illegal. The government guidance makes it clear that landlords are entitled to raise the rent.
Which they are doing.
Pets rents are a classic example of legislation having unintended consequences. Although they are not wholly a surprise.
During the consultation period for the act, the government were repeatedly told that reducing the deposit would adversely affect tenants wanting to keep pets.
However, I can only assume that the government were desperate to get Generation Rent and Shelter off their backs and so caved in to their demands – partly. Tenants bodies were actually lobbying for even lower deposits of three weeks rent or even less.
Which would have resulted in even higher pet rents.
Be careful what you wish for
The problem of pet rents has been entirely caused by tenants organisations demanding that the allowable deposit be reduced to five weeks.
If that had not happened, if landlords had been permitted to charge a higher deposit of up to eight weeks for tenants with pets, the phenomenon of pet rents would not have occurred.
They are probably here to stay as the government is unlikely to change the law on this any time soon – as they have other problems.
So unless individual tenants are able to persuade landlords that their pet is not going to cause any damage – keeping a pet in rented property is going to become an expensive luxury.