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In the current property market, renters are often forced to accept a number of limitations in order to find accommodation. While many of these are understandable, one which tends to cause huge problems for certain people is the fairly common rule against keeping pets.

This can be a sensitive topic, especially when concerning renters who have a long-term furry friend to take care of. The UK is full of animal lovers, but the market has turned so heavily against pet owners that many will be willing to pay higher rents than they would otherwise just to avoid having to part with their companions.

Now, this is hardly down to landlords just being inherently grumpy. Pets have a reputation among landlords for causing:

  • Mess
  • Unpleasant odours
  • Damage to decor and furniture
  • Noise
  • Conflict with neighbours

There are certainly a wide number of cases to support this view, but consider for a second exactly what kind of pets pose these risks. A goldfish, for example, would hardly be likely to ruin your upholstery. Even a well-trained dog can be a safe bet provided that your tenant agrees to a few additional responsibilities.

While the most common answer to the question of whether or not tenants should be allowed to keep pets is a resounding ‘no’, there are also a few potential pros to giving your renters some leeway. It really depends on the type of animal, how responsible the tenants in question are as pet owners and what your own personal preferences are.

Before we go into any further detail, it is worth pointing out now that service animals are a completely different kettle of fish. It is illegal to discriminate against a tenant for having a service animal, such as a seeing eye dog. Any attempts to do so could land you with some serious fines!

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Pros and cons of letting tenants keep pets

Before deciding on whether or not you want to let your tenants keep pets, take a second to consider the potential advantages and disadvantages.

Pros:

  • If the tenant is a responsible pet owner, they will usually be just as responsible with your property
  • Allowing pets will open you up to a much larger pool of tenants
  • You can charge higher rent for allowing pets, but be warned: while pet owners usually earn more money, you should still vet them financially and perform a credit check if possible
  • Pet owners are usually happy to take on longer contracts, as it will be more difficult for them to find their next rental property. This means a more stable source of income for landlords
  • Animals can help to reduce stress, leading to happier tenants
  • You will not have to worry about tenants trying to sneak pets in
  • Certain pets like dogs can provide great security

Cons:

  • Pets can cause damage, including scratched floors, chewed up carpets and ‘accidents’ around the property
  • Noise from pets can disturb neighbours
  • If the animal is dangerous you could be liable if it harms someone
  • You may lose other tenants if they are allergic to the pet, or if the pet becomes a nuisance
  • Subsequent tenants may also have allergies, so you may need to have the property professionally deep-cleaned when the current tenant leaves
  • Odours from pets can cause issues in common areas. Smells are not always easy to mask, so you may need to hire a professional cleaner or even replace furniture or decor
  • Typical building and contents insurance for landlords does not cover damage caused by pets

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Letting tenants keep pets

Now, most tenants who have long term pets are well aware of the negative stigma associated with their fluffy buddies. Many will be willing to work with landlords in order to prove that their pets do not pose a risk. The most responsible will even be able to offer ‘Pet CVs’ detailing their animal’s history with other properties, its medical records and even contact information for previous landlords willing to give references.

In short, it is perfectly possible for you to find a reliable and safe pet-owning tenant. However, it is up to you to decide if you are willing to put in the time and effort required to do so.

It can be good to start by advertising your property as one which accepts pets on a case by case basis. You can mention what type of pets you will accept while also making it clear exactly what kind of evidence potential tenants will need to provide.

This can include:

  • Reference information from a previous landlord
  • Information on how large the pet is and how much space it would need
  • Copies of medical records to ensure it is well taken care of
  • Information on the tenant’s lifestyle to judge how often they will be there to care for the pet
  • Details of any professional training which the pet has received

It can also be a good idea to try and meet the pet in question to see how well behaved it is. There is a huge difference between what an untrained animal is capable of and what you could expect from a well-taught and regularly-cleaned pet.

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Even if you find a tenant with the most well trained pet in the world, it can still be a good idea to add certain clauses to their tenancy agreement. 

These rules can state:

  • The tenant is responsible for regularly cleaning cages and litter trays
  • The tenant must take responsibility for any damage caused by their pet(s) during the tenancy
  • The landlord must have a second address or contact details on file in case there is an emergency with the pet
  • The tenant must cover the cost of professionally cleaning the property when they move out (if required - you cannot enforce this clause if the property is adequately clean)
  • The landlord will make regular inspections (scheduled in advance) to make sure the property is well taken care of

You can also ask for a higher deposit (particularly for any potentially dangerous pets, as damage they cause would not be considered fair wear and tear). Just in case cleaning or fumigation is required at any point after the end of the tenancy (it can often take months for certain pet-related problems to appear), you may also ask for a separate non-refundable payment.

If even after all of this you are still on the fence about the issue, you always have the option to start with a six month tenancy agreement. This way, you can see how things go and if there is a problem your tenant will be gone soon enough anyway. 

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Pets and breaching tenancy agreements

Unfortunately there are always cases involving tenants with pets coming into conflict with landlords, either because the pets were brought in without permission or for the damage they cause.

In the case of a tenant having an illegal pet, your first step should be to remind them on your policy and request that the creature be removed. Should the tenant refuse, you have two options:

  • Serve a Section 21 notice to let your tenants know that you will not be renewing their tenancy
  • If you have a specific no-pet clause in the tenancy agreement, this can be grounds for serving a Section 8 notice and evicting the tenant

Unfortunately, the process of evicting a tenant over a pet can be long and complicated, with the outcome usually depending more on the seriousness of the offence than the landlord’s personal policy. For example, if you find that your tenants are keeping a goldfish, the judge will be unlikely to take the infringement as seriously as you do. In a case like this, your best course will usually be to contact a legal advisor. 

It is also worth noting that if you evict a tenant and they leave their pet behind, it will be your responsibility as a landlord to deal with it.

If on the other hand the problem is with a pet which you knew about and allowed into the property, your response should depend on the issue at hand:

  • If it is a dangerous animal, your first step should be to contact the police
  • If the issue is with noise upsetting your neighbours, first have the tenant look for a reason and contact a vet if necessary
  • If you are concerned about the welfare of the animal, report the tenant to an animal welfare agency
  • If the pet has caused serious damage to your property, your best bet will be to speak to a legal advisor about evicting the tenant