Letting to Pets

The latest proposal to come from the Labour Party, along with a number of other proposals effecting the welfare of animals, is that landlords can no longer be allowed to disallow pets.  So landlords will be forced to be letting with pets.

The fact is that the British are supposed to be pet lovers, but British landlords may not be such lovers of pets when those pets are in the properties they let out, says David Lawrenson of LettingFocus.com.

Our own experience on this is a great lesson, showing how things can go wrong with pets.

Our “Letting to Pets from Hell” Experience

A number of years ago, we let a very nice mid terrace Victorian house in Deal, Kent to some lovely older tenants. They were just great people and looked after the property very well.

Then a lady bought the house next door and moved herself and two dogs in.

She would go out to work each day and leave the dogs. The dogs would pretty soon get bored and bark intermittently through the day – sometimes the barking would go on for hours. The noise would easily permeate through the single skin dividing wall.

So we enquired with the RSPCA. Surely it is cruel to leave dogs on their own? No, apparently it isn’t. So, no joy there.

We door stopped the lady and asked very politely if perhaps she could organise a dog walker to come by in the day. We pointed her in the direction of some dog walkers who were advertising locally and would take the dogs out for an hour or so for about £8 a day. This would stop them being bored and barking. She said she would consider it, but did nothing. The problem continued.

So we complained to the local Dover District council, who initially did not want to do anything – suggesting that we take legal action ourselves. I politely pointed out to them that my tenants paid their council taxes and that Dover should damn well take the necessary actions. They reluctantly agreed.

And so a long, make that very long, process started in which my tenants would keep detailed diary notes of all the occasions the dogs were barking – and how long for. They were given monitoring equipment and tapes. And when the noise happened, they were also to call the Environmental Health at Dover who would come out and witness it too. The trouble was that as the Dover staff were 25 minutes away and usually could not come right away, often by the time they got to the house, the barking had finally stopped.

However, after a very long time Dover Council had collected enough evidence to serve the neighbour with a warning. (The evidence my tenants collected did not count apparently, as it could not be used in any legal action, making my tenants and I question what the point was of it being issued to “civilians”).

After the warning from the Council, things would then quieten down for a period of about two weeks. And then the barking would start all over again. We would then have to get the council staff to record it all over again – which would take another few months – and issue another notice. So they did this, the noise would abate again for another two weeks or so, and then start all over again.

All the while we pleaded with the neighbour, who was after all working and a house owner and presumably not skint, to pay for a dog walker. All to no avail.

Eventually, Dover had enough and took the lady to court where Canterbury magistrates fined her around £1,000 in total.

And so, we won. Or did we?

Once again, the dog noise eased off for a few weeks. And then, you guessed it, started off all over again, repeating the past history.

So we went to Dover Council assuming that as she had breached a court order and had already been fined, things would now proceed very quickly and she would this time really be in trouble.

But no. They would have to start collecting evidence all over again.

At this, my tenants, worn down by over 18 months of doggy noise, had had enough and gave notice to leave.

So, I had lost perfectly good tenants – and the lady continued with her dogs barking. I later decided to sell the house. It was all too much trouble.

That is my experience. And it is for this reason that I say “No” to pets – unless a prospective tenant can do a great job of convincing me that their pet is the exception.

Letting with Pets

Given the choice it seems a majority of other private landlords would, like me, just say “No” to any pet larger than a goldfish too.

If you are letting a flat or any property governed by estate regulations, such as most flats are under a lease, before you let to anyone with a pet you should check the terms of the head lease to see if there is a prohibition on pets. About 30% of leases are thought to have such a prohibition. It’s not clear how Labour’s proposal would deal with this, unless they also plan to revise years of archaic freehold-leasehold law at the same time.

It’s not just pet mess, a key reason for many leases having a “Pets Prohibition” will be noise issues, as we found to our cost!

At the moment, and until maybe when Corbyn comes to power, landlords are, of course, under no legal obligation to accept pets.

But are landlords who refuse pets missing out and reducing the size of their market? And assuming you allow pets, what sort of safeguards can you put in place to ensure that little Fido does not ruin your property and end up costing you money.

One possible solution is to only let unfurnished property to pet owners. For landlords who let unfurnished or part furnished (say with just white goods) that’s fine, but if you already have a lot of furnishings it is not easy to store all your stuff.

You could also set out within the terms of the tenancy agreement exactly which types of pets are acceptable and which aren’t. If you wish, the “Pet Clause” can be quite specific and state the breed as well as the age and even the name of the pets. This will ensure that a small dog is not replaced with something old, mangy and incontinent and which is constantly barking.

Another solution is to ask for references for the pet from a previous landlord to confirm that the pet is indeed a suitable “tenant” for your property. As with all previous landlord references, it is best, if it is at all possible, to get a reference from the landlord before the one they are currently with, as the current landlord may be willing to say anything to get rid of the tenant and their animal!

And always validate that the person giving the reference really does own the property by checking on the land registry. Plus, if it is nearby and time allows, you could visit the tenant at their current place of residence.

Pet Deposits

Another safeguard is to ask for a higher deposit to protect against any damage. Many landlords ask for an additional deposit of one to three weeks rent on top of the normal standard deposit to cover the added cost-risk of a dog or cat. This could take the form of a non-returnable flea deposit which will be used at the end of the tenancy to get rid of any possible infestations. But watch out here because the Conservative government is planning to limit deposits to six weeks’ rent anyway – which would include this kind of deposit. And remember, all deposits of any kind, must be protected within an approved tenancy deposit scheme.

Even if you are OK with pets, it’s worth remembering that lots of other people may not be as accommodating as you are, so it is also worth requesting in the tenancy agreement that the pet must not be in the house at times when workmen are on site to do maintenance jobs or when prospective tenants come to view at the end of the tenancy. However, there is a risk that this kind of clause could fall foul of being an unfair term if tested in court.

Pets and Viewings

In my experience, about 15% of people are allergic to cat hairs and these people will not go into a property that has a cat inside it. If they are coming to view your property you could find that your market at the end of the tenancy is actually suddenly reduced dramatically, if you cannot even get people through the door!

If you are letting a house share where the tenants change rapidly over time as one person moves out and another moves in, if one of them has a cat, this will mean the property could be a non-starter for the 15% who will not want to share with a cat.

Some owners hate to be parted from their pets – even at death – so it is also worth making it clear in your agreement if you allow pets that their faithful friend must not be buried in the garden.

It is not just the Brits who are pet mad. Now that we have pet passports, more and more foreign visitors on work secondment in the UK are bringing their pets with them, meaning that there is strong demand for pet friendly accommodation.

Pet Premium Rents

But if you are a pet friendly landlord and if your accommodation is suitable for whatever the pet is, you could be at an advantage over other landlords – and you could charge a premium rent too.

If you use a letting agent and you don’t mind pets it is worth letting them know too as it should help get tenants. Just make the agent understands what your rules on pets are before you start the process of looking for a new tenant.

The Dogs Trust has a useful “Lets with Pets” section for those tenants who want a home for a pet and for landlords who are prepared to consider it. See www.LetsWithPets.org.uk

Finally, I would point out that whilst I do say “No Pets” in my property adverts, if I have a tenant who has been with me for 6 months or more and who looks after their property well, I would always say yes to a dog or cat, providing there was no head lease that said “no pets”. There is no sense in being unreasonable to the kind of tenant you have got to know and whom you know will look after an animal properly.

All the same, I would keep things professional and set out a new clause describing the pet and allowing that pet  (and no other) and requiring that the tenant ensures special cleaning is done to remove fleas at the end of the tenancy and that the animal is under control when workmen or other people are at the property. Plus, if it is a dog, it must absolutely be exercised and never left alone all day to bark and annoy others.

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