Changes could at last be afoot to make the rental market more accessible to our furry friends writes Kelly Rose Bradford.
Having sold her own property and now in a temporary rental, Lucy Dixon had no idea how problematic finding a permanent home to rent would be. As a professional, working full time and looking for a home in an area that is not short of available accommodation, her lack of success comes down to one thing: her pets.
“I have repeatedly tried and failed for months to find a pet-friendly house to rent, and I’m now at the stage where I really don’t know what I am going to do,” she says. “It might even come down to me having to ask relatives to take the animals in, which is not ideal as I don’t want to be apart from them, and also because my family already have pets of their own.”
When Lucy has raised the issue with letting agents as to why she is finding it so difficult to find a home, she has almost been made to feel the problem is entirely hers – that she should know landlords do not generally want tenants with pets.
“Letting agents aren’t apologetic in the slightest,” she says. “The ones I have spoken to act as if I am asking for some impossible dream property with eight bedrooms and a swimming pool for £200 a month. I really do fail to see why one small dog and two cats are a deal breaker. The places I have looked at are unfurnished, so any damage would be to my own belongings. Not that my animals have ever caused any damage in any of my previous homes.”
The irony in this situation is that Lucy used to let properties herself, and never implemented a no pets policy.
“When I was a landlord, I always had tenants with pets. There was never any problems at all. They were always so grateful to have found an understanding landlord that I think they were better tenants to be honest. And I’d certainly rather have a pet-owner than a smoker, that’s for sure.”
Unfortunately, Lucy’s situation is far from unique, with many people having to make the heart-breaking choice between a home and their pets, something that was recognised by Jen Berezai, co-founder of AdvoCATS (advocatseastmids.org.uk), a non-profit, voluntary organisation which offers pet-related support to tenants and landlords.
Jen had seen from her long involvement with animal rescue centres the devastation caused by blanket no pet bans, and through AdvoCATS began working with landlords and letting agents to provide vet references, independent tenant checks and pet CVs to help them make an informed decision about allowing a tenant with a pet to rent their property.
AdvoCATS recently published a report around the problems that pet owners are facing – for example, only 7 per cent of landlords currently advertise their properties as suitable for pets, with many charging an additional rent for allowing them.
The report states that while the issue is not new, it has been exacerbated by the growing tenant population, and the introduction of the Tenant Fees Act in 2019, which abolished the provision for landlords to request extra security deposits for pets.
One of the supporters of AdvoCATS, and a contributor to the report, is MP for Romford, Andrew Rosindell. He has been campaigning against ‘no pet’ clauses since 2020, when he heard about Jordan Adams, a young man who had to leave his beloved dog Jasmine behind with his mother when he moved into rented accommodation. Jasmine now has to be kennelled when Jordan’s mother goes away, because he cannot have her in his flat even temporarily.
Under the Ten Minute Rule Bill, and with cross-party support, Andrew Rosindell proposes ‘Jasmine’s Law’ which would limit blanket bans on responsible, pet-owning tenants renting properties.
“Since the Tenant Fees Act of 2019, which banned landlords from charging pet deposits or for pet insurance, it has become much more difficult to find landlords willing to take pets,” he tells us.
In January this year, an amendment to The Model Tenancy Agreement (the government’s recommended legal template for landlords) made it the default position that tenants can keep ‘well-behaved’ pets, unless a good reason was given for not allowing them. Using the MTA however is entirely voluntary, and landlords are under no obligation to do so. Despite this, Andrew Rosindell says it is a ‘significant step’ forward.
“The Housing Minister made clear that blanket bans on pets are unfair, and these changes show that the Government recognises the extent of the problem,” he says. “Landlords should only turn down a request if there is good reason to do so, such as large pets in smaller properties or flats, or properties where having a pet could be impractical. Nevertheless, is not legally binding, and this campaign (Jasmine’s Law) must continue, and we must turn the proposals into law.”
Andrew adds that Jasmine’s Law would state that a person should have the right to keep a dog or other ‘domestic animal’ in any type of rented accommodation in England, something which would have a particular impact on the homeless.
“This includes halfway houses and shelters,” he says. “For the most vulnerable in society – the homeless, and the rough sleepers – pets are a lifeline, and we must make humane pet policies the norm.”
Jade Statt, a vet and co-founder of StreetVet (streetvet.co.uk) a charity which provides free veterinary assistance and advice to the homeless, agrees. She says the lack of pet-friendly rental accommodation leaves some people making the decision to stay living on the streets rather than give up their companion animal.
“Getting to know the owners you start to understand the full picture of why they are on the streets,” she says. “And many dog owners had their pets before they became homeless, and then, when they lost their home they were determined not to lose their dog, too. And when you are left at that point of choosing… well, you don’t just give up a member of your family, do you?”
According to Jade, only 10 per cent of homeless hostels are pet friendly, and if a person is offered a space and then refuses it because they cannot take their dog, they are then deemed ‘voluntarily homeless’.
“The impact is so far reaching,” she says. “There are people not attending hospital and medical appointments because they have nowhere to leave their pet. They don’t attend soup kitchens because their dogs are not allowed in… The whole lack of dog friendly accommodation and places for people to stay is part of a cycle that perpetuates homelessness.”
Meeta Bose rents out three properties in the south east of England. She is a dog owner herself, and sympathetic to the problems pet owners go through when looking for a rented home. She says she makes her decision after meeting the prospective tenant and their pets, and always follows up references, as well as carrying out checks throughout the tenancy. She believes a common sense approach is needed where animals are concerned, and that with sensible measures in place, landlords and tenants can have a mutually beneficial arrangement.
“I take a bigger deposit in case carpets need replacing, or things have been chewed,” she explains, “and I get the agent to do more frequent inspections. I also make sure I follow up references and speak to previous landlords about how the last property was left. This is really important.”
Meeta says her approach has paid off, and she has only ever had good experiences with her pet-owning tenants.
“One of the main reasons I do not have a blanket ‘no’ policy is that I know it can be really hard for people to find accommodation, so when they do find a property, they tend to really look after it and stay long term, which is obviously the best outcome, and a win win situation for everyone.”
AdvoCATS say one solution to the issue would be an amendment to the Tenant Fees Act to allow pet damage insurance to be included as a permitted payment, and the onus of pet damage insurance falling on tenants rather than landlords. This, they say would allow tenants to build up a no claims history, and would mean in the event of a claim, landlords would not be penalised in the future with a higher premium. A February 2021 You Gov poll commissioned by the Society for Companion Animal Studies showed that 57 per cent of dog owners would be willing to pay for pet insurance if required by a landlord. AdvoCATS call for this insurance is ‘fully endorsed’ by MP Andrew Rosindell, who says that adding it along with pet deposits to the list of permitted payments would ‘give landlords that extra layer of certainty.’
However, while pet-owning rental-hunter Lucy Dixon welcomes legislation that will make it easier for tenants with animals, she does feel that people in her situation are unfairly judged, and negative assumptions made:
“I’d be willing to pay insurance, but reluctantly,” she says. “I don’t like that pet owners are automatically assumed to be likely to leave the property damaged, especially as we already hand over hefty deposits. But despite that, it is much better than the other option – having to give up our pets.”
Are you looking to rent with your pets?
We asked Jen Berezai from AdvoCATS for her top tips for negotiating with landlords and letting agents.
Ask your vet for a reference. Demonstrate that you are a responsible owner, and that your pet is microchipped, neutered, and has regular flea and worming treatments.
Provide pictures of your current accommodation to show there is no damage to carpets, soft-furnishings and walls – and ask your existing landlord to confirm your pet has never been a problem.
Ask anyone who regularly deals with you and your pet (such as groomers, dog walkers, doggy day care/kennel owners) for a reference saying s/he is in good health and well behaved and looked after.