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Pets in Flats

Pets in Flats

23 Dec 2021

There has been a ‘lockdown pet boom’ and ‘an unprecedented rise in pet ownership’ according to various headlines in the press during the course of the Covid pandemic. It was reported by the BBC on 12 March 2021 that a “total of 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of lockdown according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association and that means the country now has 17 million pet-owning homes”.

Owing to stipulations contained in their tenancy agreements or their leases, many pet owners including some of our clients have encountered difficulties keeping pets where they live in rented properties or leasehold flats or are hoping to move into them.

Leases or tenancy agreements often include prohibitions on keeping pets and/or causing a nuisance to neighbours.

The prohibitions may provide for a blanket ban on keeping pets or stipulate that consent must first be obtained from the landlord.

 

Why might a Landlord refuse to give consent to own a pet in their property?

A landlord might refuse consent or stipulate conditions for granting consent such as payment of the landlord’s legal or other fees and any consent given may state that permission will be revoked in the event the landlord receives any complaint about noise or nuisance from others.

Situations can and do arise where tenants have been given consent by a landlord to keep a pet in a property but complaints are later made to the landlord by neighbours and tenants may be required to give up their pet.

 

A typical clause in a tenancy agreement or a lease relating to pets might state something like:

“The Tenant shall not keep any pets or any other animals on or in the Property without the prior written consent of the Landlord (such consent not to be unreasonably withheld)”.

 

Where a tenant makes an application for landlord’s consent in keeping with that clause, a landlord can refuse consent where it is reasonable to do so. For example, in the High Court case of Victory Place Management Company Ltd -v- Kuehn & Anor [2018] EWHC 132 (Ch), a tenant unsuccessfully challenged a management company’s decision to refuse consent to the tenant’s request to keep a dog and found that it was reasonable for the management company to take into account the preference of the majority of tenants in the block for a “no pets” policy.

 

From a landlord’s point of view, it may be unreasonable to allow tenants to keep pets in smaller properties or where walls are thin as, for example, excessive dog barking can make neighbours’ lives a misery.

Even if there is no absolute or qualified prohibition on the keeping of pets in a tenancy agreement or lease, there is often a prohibition on causing a nuisance. A typical clause about this in a lease or tenancy agreement might read:

 

“ The Tenant shall not do anything to or on the Property that causes a nuisance, annoyance or damage to occupiers of neighbouring, adjoining or adjacent property, or the owners or occupiers of them”.

 

Excessive dog barking, for example, may amount to a nuisance and the landlord may be required to take action against the tenant by virtue of enforcement covenants it owes to all other leaseholders in their leases.

Where tenants or leaseholders keep pets in contravention of their obligations in a lease or tenancy agreement, they risk enforcement action being taken against them by their landlords that may include injunction proceedings, claims for damages and legal costs and even claims to recover possession of the premises.

 

Is the blanket prohibition of owning a pet in a rented property a breach of fair terms in a tenancy agreement?

The Office of Fair Trading (now superseded by the Competition and Markets Authority) had issued guidance in 2005 that identified examples of potentially unreasonable prohibitions in tenancy agreements and in respect of an obligation in a contract that a blanket prohibition on the keeping of pets may amount to an unfair contract term, it stated “our objection is to blanket exclusions of pets without consideration of all the circumstances. Such a term has been considered unfair under comparable legislation in another EU member state because it could prevent a tenant keeping a goldfish. We are unlikely to object to a term prohibiting the keeping of pets that could harm the property, affect subsequent tenants or be a nuisance to other residents”.

That guidance from the OFT does not take into account developments in case law, legislation or practices since its publication but it may be sensible for landlords of tenancy agreements and leases not to include an absolute prohibition on the keeping of pets but instead to require that landlord’s consent must first be obtained where such consent is not to be unreasonably withheld.

 

In a Press Release on 28 January 2021, Housing Minister Rt Hon Christopher Pincher MP said:

 “We are a nation of animal lovers and over the last year, more people than ever before have welcomed pets into their lives and homes.

But it can’t be right that only a tiny fraction of landlords advertise pet-friendly properties and in some cases, people have had to give up their beloved pets in order to find somewhere to live.”

Here is a link to the Press Release:

New standard tenancy agreement to help renters with well behaved pets - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

 

These comments were part of the Government’s announcement that it has brought in a new Model Tenancy Agreement that landlords and tenants can use for tenancies with the intent of  

“bringing an end to the unfair blanket ban on pets introduced by some landlords. This strikes the right balance between helping more people find a home that’s right for them and their pet while ensuring landlords’ properties are safeguarded against inappropriate or badly behaved pets”.

 

A copy of the new Model Tenancy Agreement can be found using this link:

Model agreement for a shorthold assured tenancy - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

 

Regarding pets, what the new Model Tenancy Agreement provides is:

“A Tenant must seek the prior written consent of the Landlord should they wish to keep pets or other animals at the Property. A Landlord must not unreasonably withhold or delay a written request from a Tenant without considering the request on its own merits. The Landlord should accept such a request where they are satisfied the Tenant is a responsible pet owner and the pet is of a kind that is suitable in relation to the nature of the premises at which it will be kept. Consent is deemed to be granted unless the written request is turned down by a Landlord with good reason in writing within 28 days of receiving the request. A Landlord is prohibited from charging a fee to a Tenant who wishes to keep pets or other animals at the Property. Permission may be given on the condition that the Tenant pays an additional reasonable amount towards the deposit, but the deposit must not breach the deposit cap requirements under the Tenant Fees Act 2019…”

 

What can I do as a pet owner?

Pet owners should take note though that the Government’s announcement and the terms of the new Model Tenancy Agreement amount merely to guidance and are not legally binding.

The model tenancy agreement is only applicable to assured shorthold tenancies and not to leases and landlords do not have to use it.  Landlords of assured shorthold tenancies who are themselves leaseholders subject to a covenant in their lease not to keep pets could be in breach of their leases if they allow their sub-tenants to keep pets in the property.

 

Contact Muscatt Walker Hayim

If you require any specific advice or assistance about the issues referred to in this blog or any other related issues, please contact Yvonne Addy by telephone on 0207 486 5131 or by email to yvonne.addy@mwh-law.co.uk or make an online enquiry here.

 

 

This blog was prepared on 22 December 2021. It is not intended to be advice and should not be relied upon as such.

In every case that we handle, we are committed to the very highest levels of client care