What the government’s new model tenancy agreement means for your ‘no pets’ rule
Following the publication of the government’s new Model Tenancy Agreement in January 2021, the press and social media have been fuelled with posts stating that there has been a change in the law: landlords must now allow pets in their rental properties, except where there is a reasonable excuse not to. This flurry of online activity can be explained by the fact that private landlords tend to refuse pets, despite the increase in pet ownership and demand for pet-friendly rentals during lockdown. However, there is a clear distinction between ‘guidance’ and ‘law’ and allowing pets into your rental properties certainly falls within the former.
What is the difference between guidance and law?
Where has this confusion come from? The government updated its standard tenancy agreement template, the Model Tenancy Agreement (MTA), in January 2021. The MTA is designed for landlords entering into assured shorthold tenancy agreements in the private rented sector and is made available free of charge. On page 29 (yes, you read that correctly), the government introduced a new clause 1.5 that seeks to prohibit a blanket ban on pets in rental properties. The key elements of this pet clause are:
- Renters must seek written consent from their landlord to keep animals in the property
- It will be presumed that the landlord consents to the keeping of a pet where the landlord does not reply in writing within 28 days of receiving the request (unless there is good reason)
- A landlord cannot ‘unreasonably withhold or delay’ consent
- The landlord should accept requests where they are satisfied that the Tenant is a responsible pet owner and the property is suitable (notice should, not must)
- Landlords are prohibited from charging a fee for the keeping of pets but may demand a higher deposit (provided this does not breach the 5-week tenancy deposit cap in the Tenant Fees Act 2019).
When can a landlord turn down a pet request?
According to the new Guidance, a landlord should only turn down a request where there is good reason to do so; for example, where the size of the property is inappropriate for the animal or the tenant has previously failed to keep up with the activities required to look after the pet. As a landlord, letting agent or a property manager, what does this new guidance mean for you and your rental properties?
Is the landlord legally required to permit pets?
There is no new legal requirement for a landlord to permit pets in their properties. The model tenancy agreement is an entirely optional document to follow: there is no legal requirement to use it when contracting. The model tenancy agreement acts as guidance: it is a ‘model’ agreement for people to follow; it has not created new law nor new legal obligations. This change will not affect a landlord’s current or future tenancy agreements which do not use the model tenancy agreement as a template. This is especially true since the model tenancy agreement hasn’t proven to be hugely popular due to its length and its focus on longer lettings, instead of shorter ones. Moreover the model tenancy agreement isn't suitable for all tenancies including HMOs and bedsits.
If a tenant keeps a pet in a rental property, in breach of their ‘no pets’ tenancy agreement clause, a landlord can seek to evict them using a section 8 eviction notice. A judge might dismiss the notice as unfair, so when seeking to evict a tenant for keeping pets in a rented property it is likely you will need to demonstrate pet damage that has resulted from the pet living in the property.
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Service dogs and your ‘no pets’ rules
As shown above, a landlord is entitled to operate a ‘no pets’ policy in their tenancy agreements. However, under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for landlords to refuse assistance or service dogs (e.g. guide dog) if a tenant is disabled as the landlord would have failed to make a ‘reasonable adjustment’. Service dogs are not pets to be captured by a ‘no pets’ rule- they are there to provide assistance and support and therefore, by law, cannot be refused. Whilst it is common for service dogs to wear vets, this is not a legal requirement, particularly in the home.
A landlord might be able to refuse service dogs in their rental properties if they can provide a persuasive and adequate explanation, such as health and safety but this will only likely apply in a handful of cases. Please also note that an emotional support pet is not considered to be a service pet.
Can landlords advertise a no pets rules?
At present, it isn't entirely clear whether landlords can or cannot advertise a no pets rule to prospective tenants. On the lines of the Model Tenancy Agreement, we can argue that it is not best practice to advertise a no pets clause as the default position because there cannot necessarily be a good reason for refusing pets in every case and blocking pet-owning tenants from renting your property. However, as we have shown above, the Model Tenancy Agreement is not law, it is guidance.
Discussion of the Dogs and Domestic Animals Accommodation Protection Bill and any changes it could create might provide more guidance on this. The Bill is tabled to help responsible pet owners rent pet-friendly properties. The Bill received its first reading in October 2020, we are still waiting to hear when the second reading will take place which has been likely delayed by the pandemic.
Pets in Rentals
A landlord cannot request a security deposit larger than 5 weeks’ rent (or 6 weeks’ where the rental is over £50,000) if they approve pets in their rental property due to the bans and caps introduced by the Tenant Fees Act 2019. This means that a landlord and tenant cannot arrange for a so-called 'pet deposit' to be paid in exchange for permitting pets in the property. Equally, a landlord cannot demand professional cleaning at the end of the tenancy whether they have authorised the responsible tenants to keep a pet in the property or not.
Landlords can legally increase rental prices where they permit pets in rentals. However, it is likely that in the case of service dogs this would border discrimination. This practice of rent increasing has stemmed from the capping of deposits in 2019, according to David Cox, former chief executive of ARLA Propertymark. The Dogs Trust, along with National Office of Animal Health (NOAH) and others, are campaigning to remove the obstacles associated with renting with pets, highlighting the benefits of keeping pets for both tenant and landlord. Whether this will pave the way to something like the model tenancy agreement guidance becoming law, with caps being placed on both rent, as well as deposits, will have to be seen.
How to add a pet clause
When agreeing with a potential tenant that they can have a pet in your rental property, www.letswithpets.org.uk suggest that you include a pet clause in your tenancy agreement to reflect this arrangement. Furthermore, even if your existing tenant gets a new pet, it is recommended that you make a tenancy amendment to reflect your consent.
When creating an assured shorthold tenancy on Legislate, users have the flexibility to include pet clauses in their agreements with their new tenants. When inserting a pet clause in your contract, it is advised that you are as specific as possible, for example by stating the type of animal, its breed and even the animal's name. The clause should also give 'The Pet' permission to stay in the property, alongside the named tenants.
On Legislate, you can add these clauses into your tailored tenancy agreements simply by answering the questions provided by the platform that will auto-generate a full contract containing these clauses.
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The opinions on this page are for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice on which you should rely.