Blanket bans on pets in rented properties
Can landlords impose a blanket ban on pets? Recent news coverage suggested that the Government has changed the law to prevent this. One such headline in the Mirror read: “New rules mean landlords can no longer automatically ban tenants from having pets”. In a press release from the Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government, Housing Minister Chris Pincher MP claimed: “Through the changes to the tenancy agreement we are making today, we are bringing an end to the unfair blanket ban on pets introduced by some landlords”.
But there has not really been a change in the law. This story was about a change made to the Government’s model tenancy agreement, which is a contract for residential lettings produced and recommended by the Government. There is no obligation to use this agreement and not many landlords do. An update to the model tenancy agreement would only have legal effect for landlords and tenants who use that agreement (and only where a new tenancy is entered into, using the new wording).
This change has been coming for some time. In January 2020 the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick called on landlords to “make it easier for responsible tenants to have well behaved pets in their homes” and announced an overhaul of the model tenancy agreement. It has taken over a year to implement even this small change. The Government has obviously been focussed on other matters during the last twelve months, but the delay means that Ministers have generated two cycles of very positive press coverage merely from making a change to a little used tenancy agreement – it might be no co-incidence the ‘pets’ change came around the same time as it was reported that the important Renters Reform Bill would be delayed until after the pandemic was over.
There is one interesting change in emphasis between the policy as announced in 2020 and now. In January 2020 the Government’s press release accepted that pet bans would be acceptable in some properties, saying: “total bans on renters with pets should only be implemented where there is good reason, such as in smaller properties or flats where owning a pet could be impractical”. The Government now appears to be entirely opposed to ‘pet bans’ in any rented property, contradicting the policy from just twelve months ago in a small but significant way.
Pet Clauses in the Model Tenancy Agreement
There are several better tenancy agreements available, but the model tenancy agreement has some good qualities – there is some decent plain English drafting, and it is clear that a lot of thought has gone into it.
However, the new pet clauses are unlikely to be acceptable to landlords. Tenants can request permission to keep any animal at all in the rented property, and if the landlord received a written request and does not turn down that request with good reason in writing within 28 days of receiving it, they are deemed to have given their consent. A disorganised landlord who uses the new model tenancy agreement might find they have accidentally given permission for the tenant to have a micro-pig or a tiger!
The ’Lets with Pets’ campaign has a suggested pet clause which is perhaps more practical – their clause gives permission for specific identified animal.
The Legal Position
There are certainly situations where a refusal to allow a guide dog or other service animal would be a breach of the Equality Act 2010 – landlords must make reasonable adjustments, and this could include allowing a service dog for a blind tenant.
Beyond that, there is no general right for tenants to have pets (although there is a right to hens and chickens under section 12 of the Allotments Act 1950.)
Tenants might object to a blanket ban as being an ‘unfair term’. Unfair terms (term which, contrary to the requirement of ‘good faith’, cause a significant imbalance in the parties) are not binding on consumers. Guidance issued by the Office of Fair Trading in 2005 (and withdrawn in 2017) criticised blanket exclusions of pets without consideration of all the circumstances and suggested that such restrictions were potentially unfair. However, the OFT’s position on this is not universally accepted and was not legally binding even before it was withdrawn.
Landlords point out that in leasehold properties there is sometimes a prohibition in the lease on having pets at the property. If the landlord of a leasehold property cannot get permission from the freeholder, they will not able to allow their tenants to have pets.
Where a tenancy agreement states that the tenant may not do something without the landlord’s consent this is in most cases supplemented by an implied obligation on the landlord not to unreasonably withhold consent. This means that some tenants do have a legal right to insist that landlord consider a request to have pets properly. However, tenants are in a difficult position if they feel they have been unreasonably refused permission to have a pet as there is no easy legal remedy to address this.
A private members bill, the Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation and Protection) Bill 2019-21, would establish a right for residential tenants to keep dogs and other animals in rented Property. However, the vast majority of private members bill do not become law, and unless this becomes Government policy a real change in the law in unlikely.
*Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*