What could the Pets Bill mean for letting agents?

It’s been years in the making but 2021 will see – barring a major political change of direction – letting agents and landlords compelled by law to accept tenants with pets.

This is an issue that has been hotly debated. Landlords claim pets damage properties and can make homes harder and more expensive to re-let.

Pet campaigners claim the private rental market is discriminatory against tenants with four-legged friends, and that they should have same access to their pets as homeowners.

Updates to Assured Shorthold Tenancy contracts

Until recently this had all rumbled on with little progress, other than a minor update to the government’s model Assured Shorthold Tenancy contract which, in January 2020, called on landlords and letting agents to accept tenants with dogs or cats.

A further update to this model tenancy then followed in early 2021 giving tenants more rights, essentially putting the onus on landlords to prove a dog or cat would not be suitable for their property. But unlike the pets bill, the model tenancy is not mandatory or legally binding – only recommended.

“Pets bring a huge amount of joy and comfort to people’s lives, helping their owner’s through difficult times and improving their mental and physical wellbeing,” said housing minister Robert Jenrick.

“So, it’s a shame that thousands of animal-loving tenants and their children can’t experience this because they rent their homes instead of owning property.”

But the changes were not mandatory – landlords and letting agents were only asked ‘to consider opening their doors to responsible pet owners’.

Balancing tenant and landlord interests

Jenrick suggested that there should be a balance, with responsible pet owners not being penalised and landlords being more flexible in their approach, and that it was right that landlords’ properties should be protected from damage by badly-behaved pets.

But, despite years of campaigning by groups such as Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and The Dogs Trust, a breakthrough has been achieved after a new Bill was introduced into parliament in October 2020 proposing that pets and rented properties be regulated by the law, rather than landlord discretion.

It followed national media attention about the case of Jordan Adams in Surrey whose dog Jasmine has been barred from living with him at his rented flat.

The Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation and Protection) Bill

Romford Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell introduced his Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation and Protection) Bill to MPs, naming it ‘Jasmine’s Law’ after Jordan Adam’s pooch.

Rosindell’s private members bill stands a good chance of success – the government is unlikely to block its path through both houses of parliament and it passed its first reading with ease.

Also, it’s backed by 11 cross-party MPs including Andrea Leadsom and Tim Farron and will get its second reading on 5 February 2021.

What could happen if the Pets Bill passes?

But if it does make the statute book, how will it change how letting agents deal with tenants who are applying for a property and who have cats or dogs?

The full details of the bill have yet to be published, but Rosindell has outlined some of its key features. These will require extra work for letting agents and landlords when on-boarding tenants with cats or dogs.

How software can help with any future Pets Bill changes

Software like Alto will be well equipped to help deal with any extra admin burden, with its eSigning functionality, and letting and tenant communication tools such as PropertyFile.

So far, the checklist of potential extra work for letting agents includes:

  • Asking for a vet’s written confirmation that a pet has been microchipped and that the animal is registered on a national database
  • Checking the tenant has a vet’s confirmation that the pet is vaccinated, spayed/neutered, free of parasites and responsive to basic training commands (in the case of dogs)
  • Asking to see proof that a tenant is a ‘responsible owner’
  • Assessment of the property to ensure it is suitable for a pet

 

But while Rosindell has yet to publish his draft Bill which will put flesh on these proposals, one aspect he did not mention but will have to address is the Tenant Fees Act.

This bans landlords and lettings agents from charging tenants additional fees outside those allowed in law, including extra deposits or fees for pets.

Implications of the Pets Bill for the Tenant Fees Act

Until the Tenant Fees Act came into force in April 2020, many landlords did allow pets. This was as long as an extra deposit was paid by the tenant, to cover the additional costs of cleaning during check-out or any damage to a property by the pet.

Instead, many argue, these payments have been driven underground and, instead, higher rents are being charged to tenants with pets – sometimes transparently but in many cases without tenants being told they are paying extra to live with their pet.

The most recent advice from ARLA Propertymark is that: “Provided that it is expressly advertised on property listings and to a potential tenant, a higher amount of rent may be organised to accommodate for a tenant having a pet. The rent without a pet must also be advertised.

“If the prospective tenant does not want to pay a higher amount of rent for a pet, the landlord does not have to allow the pet.

A separate deposit system for pets?

Therefore, this anomaly created by the Tenant Fees Act will have to be addressed by the Rosindell Bill, and it understood that he’s in discussions with trade bodies and Ministers on this and other issues.

To get a clear run through parliament, landlords will have to be reassured that the potential extra cost of a tenant with a pet is met either via a modified or separate deposit system that accommodates pets, or a nationally-organised pet insurance for rented properties.

If tenants can prove that they are responsible owners and that their pets are well behaved and appropriate for the accommodation, there is no reason to deny them the right to live together with their animal companion,” says Rosindell.

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