What the government’s new model tenancy agreement means for your ‘no pets’ rule.
Following the recent publication of the government’s new Model Tenancy Agreement, 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. 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 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 clause are:
- A tenant 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 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 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 MTA is an entirely optional document to follow: there is no legal requirement to use it when contracting. The MTA 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 MTA as a template. This is especially true since the MTA hasn’t proven to be hugely popular due to its length and its focus on longer lettings, instead of shorter ones. Moreover the MTA isn't suitable for all tenancies.
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 notice. A judge might dismiss the notice as unfair, so when seeking to evict a tenant for keeping pets in a rental property it is likely you will need to demonstrate damage that has resulted from the pet living in the property.
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 you are disabled as they 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. 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.
Pets in Rentals
A landlord cannot request a 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.
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. 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 MTA guidance becoming law, with caps being placed on both rent, as well as deposits, will have to be seen.
Legislate offers model tenancy contracts which are up to date with both changes in the law and relevant guidelines and notices, giving you, and your tenant(s), confidence that your agreements are enforceable and that you both are protected by its terms. Read our tutorial to learn how to create your tenancy agreements in minutes with Legislate.
The opinions on this page are for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice on which you should rely.