Sim Sekhon: banning pets is short-sighted

Is it reasonable to keep a pet crocodile in an apartment block? I suspect most people would think not but try convincing the licenced owner who’s seen that crocodile emerge from an egg. A tenant has an adorable spaniel, but it barks in distress if it’s left home alone, disturbing the neighbours. What is a landlord to do? Ban pets entirely or load up the tenancy agreement with extra clauses?

Pets are a very emotive subject, and everyone will have a different opinion on what’s acceptable but bear with me while I throw a few statistics at you.

In 2017, the UK dog population was approaching 9 million, who live in approximately 7 million households. Cats numbered 8 million living in 5 million households. About 24 percent of the population owns a dog. 17 percent own a cat. Roughly one in two households has a pet of some type.

Sorry about the numbers. My point is this: for a landlord, a ‘no pet’ policy cuts the pool of potential tenants massively. It’s not even, strictly speaking, permissible to have such a policy. Under the Consumer Rights Act of 2015, you need reasonable grounds to refuse tenants the right to keep a pet, although ‘reasonable’ can be interpreted in different ways. It’s another of those tricky subjective areas. Is a rat a pet or is it vermin? Would you refuse stick insects? How many cats is too many? How big is a big dog?

It’s easy to see that a blanket ban deals with all the grey areas. “No pets” means no pets, but this really is a situation where a case-by-case approach makes more sense.

Let’s get the downside of pets out of the way. Mostly these apply to the larger animals. We all know that a teething puppy has immense chewing capacity, dogs can be noisy, and cats sometimes use sofas as scratching posts. Cats can bring in flea infestations, and other tenants with allergies could be adversely affected. And yes, animals can be a bit smelly.

Most of these issues are manageable. Yes, there’s a risk of landlord’s property being damaged, but add a little extra to the deposit and you should be covered. Maybe you could ask for a slightly higher monthly rent or put a clause in the tenancy agreement about a deep clean being required when the tenant moves on. Many landlords say they would only accept pets in unfurnished lets, but a detailed inventory, with clear photos, should provide evidence of any damage to furnishings other than normal wear and tear.

I’ve already mentioned that accepting pets ensures a wider pool of potential tenants, but there’s another thing that’s worth thinking about. Tenants with pets are often more ‘settled’. They know how tough it can be to find a rental property that works for them and their four-legged friends, so they’re keen to stay. It can make them very good, long-term tenants.

You could choose to ‘meet’ the pet before you enter into an agreement. A well-behaved animal, clearly in good health, could be a handy indicator of a responsible owner, likely to prove a responsible tenant.

We need to be sensible, of course we do, but there are positive aspects of allowing pets, and I believe more landlords should consider it. As the numbers renting continues to grow the demand for less restrictive tenancies will grow too.

As an industry, we wouldn’t be doing ourselves any favours by having an unbending aversion to the pets our customers love.