Property118 | Tenants and Pets

The Government’s White Paper “A Fairer Private Rented Sector” sets out proposals to allow tenants in private rented properties to keep pets. As always, the devil will be in the detail but things do not look hopeful for landlords trying to protect the value of their property. The White Paper includes the following statements:

[W]e will make it easier for landlords to accept pets by amending the Tenant Fees Act 2019 to include pet insurance as a permitted payment. This means landlords will be able to require pet insurance, so that any damage to their property is covered. [Emphasis mine – some but not all damage may be covered.] We will continue to work with landlords and other groups to encourage a common-sense approach.

You will have a right to request a pet in your property, which the landlord must consider and not unreasonably withholding (sic) consent. To mitigate any concerns about pets, your landlord may ask you to take out pet insurance. [Emphasis mine – as we shall see, such mitigation is rather limited.]

We will legislate to ensure landlords do not unreasonably withhold consent when a tenant requests to have a pet in their home, with the tenant able to challenge a decision. [Doubtless, there will be a big stick behind this.]

It will no longer be a breach of the Tenant Fees Act 2019 to require, where it is reasonable, that tenants take out pet insurance. This means pet liability insurance, not insurance to cover vets’ bills – a distinction the White Paper does not address and which may be lost on many tenants. It does not appear that landlords will be allowed to charge the cost of taking out their own policy or for adding pet damage to a property and contents policy.

From a landlord’s perspective it is not at all satisfactory for the tenant to insure for various reasons:

  • The landlord has no control over the insurance policy;
  • Diligent landlords with several properties will have to scrutinize different policies to see if they are suitable or contain unacceptable exclusions;
  • The policy may be disabled if the tenant:
    1. does not disclose material matters at inception and on renewal;
    2. makes false statements to insurers;
    3. breaches the terms of the policy;
    4. fails to pay renewal premiums – perhaps to save money; or
    5. cancels the policy without telling the landlord.
  • Even if a claim is successful, insurers will pay the tenant, not the landlord and a claim may be settled many months after the tenant has left. Landlords will worry that insurance proceeds never reach them.
  • Where a tenant fails to notify insurers promptly, claims may be refused. Some policies require notification within 30 days of damage occurring. Well-organized tenants – the sort who are responsible owners – may be timely. Others may not remember or claim – perhaps fearing an increase in premiums – until after the tenancy ends. If insurers deny liability, the landlord may be left to claim against an impecunious tenant.

Whoever takes out insurance, it will not cover wear and tear. Paintwork on woodwork scratched by a dog will not be covered nor will extra scuffs or greasy smears on wallpaper or painted walls. Carpets, furniture and curtains will need to be replaced more frequently. Matters will be judged on the basis that the letting was to a tenant with a pet or pets so more wear and tear must be accepted.

Pet insurance may not cover the landlord for the time it takes to carry out fumigation, redecoration, repairs and reconstruction. Landlords may lose rent.

The White Paper makes no mention of any sanction for a tenant failing to maintain pet insurance or for deliberately misleading insurers as to the risk. How about a fine of up to £ 5,000 for a first offense and up to £ 30,000 for subsequent offenses such as landlords face under the Tenant Fees Act 2019? (not a chance – Ed.) A landlord’s principal remedy may be to evict the tenant for a breach of contract which will put the landlord to trouble and expense with no guarantee that the court will order possession and at the end of it the landlord will have an empty property in need of work, a claim for pet damage and an ex-tenant with no insurance.

The only prudent course for a landlord accepting or being forced to accept pets is to take out his own pet liability insurance (or add it to his main policy) and increase the rent to cover the extra cost. Let us hope the insurance industry can provide landlord’s policies that are not disabled if the tenants have provided incorrect information or breach the policy without the landlord’s knowledge

The White Paper says almost nothing on any topic about houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). No distinction has been drawn between tenants in HMOs wanting pets and tenants in a whole property. Apart from student lets, most HMOs are home for people who stay for varying lengths of time but may not always know each other well. Landlords will be extremely reluctant to have dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents or snakes in an HMO. Current and prospective tenants may have allergies or be scared of animals. They will certainly not appreciate cleaning up mess if the owner is away or listening to their absent housemate’s dog barking in a locked room when they want to sleep or relax. New tenants may feel disgust on finding pet fleas in the carpet of their bedroom.

If one housemate is allowed a pet, why not all of them? What if Tenant A’s cat kills B’s hamster or C’s mutt impregnates D’s pedigree prize winner or E’s dog constantly humps Tenant F’s leg?

It would be reasonable to allow a blanket ban on pets in HMOs. However, I can guarantee the legislation will not do so. I expect HMO landlords will try to forbid pets but the mandatory Ombudsman scheme may on occasion demand a landlord accepts them. Landlords may hope that HMO tenants are sensitive and understand that the health and safety of other housemates should trump their desire for a pet. Unfortunately, the White Paper is silent on this. Landlords will have to balance one tenant’s “need” for a support animal with others’ health and happiness.

The Government wants landlords to use its model tenancy agreement “which has a clause for respectable pet owners”. Landlords will be concerned to have responsible pet owners (whether respectable or not) but will be concerned in case their tenant is one of the irresponsible ones. There are twelve mentions of “criminal landlords” but it is no surprise the White Paper contains nothing about irresponsible owners or misbehaving animals.

We should anticipate a boost for the insurance industry and a general increase in rents as landlords are forced to take on extra risk and accept greater damage to their properties.

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