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Private Landlords: Tenants with Pets

Volume 812: debated on Tuesday 15 June 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage more private landlords to allow responsible tenants to keep pets in their rented properties.

I draw attention to my residential and commercial property interests as set out in the register. The Government want to improve life for tenants and recognise the importance of pets in people’s lives. Earlier this year we published the revised national model tenancy agreement, the Government’s suggested contract for assured shorthold tenancy in the private rented sector. We revised it to encourage landlords to allow responsible tenants to keep well-behaved pets in their home.

My Lords, during the difficult and often lonely days of lockdown, pets have been a vital source of companionship, well-being and love for many people across the UK, especially the vulnerable. However, is my noble friend aware that, according to Cats Protection, 1 million households that would like to have a cat cannot do so because they live in a rental property? I welcome the changes made to the Government’s model tenancy agreement, which my noble friend mentioned, meaning that consent for pets will be the default position for any landlord using it, but not all landlords use the agreement as it is voluntary. What action will the Government take to encourage landlords to use the model tenancy agreement to allow all those who want to have a pet in their rented property the chance to do so?

My Lords, I am aware of the issue that my noble friend raises. The model tenancy agreement is the Government’s suggested contract with which to agree a tenancy and is freely available online. We will continue to work with landlords and other stakeholders to ensure its wider adoption for use in the private rented sector.

My Lords, I understand from the excellent briefing from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home that tenants’ housing problems resulting from people moving to a property that does not allow pets are the second most common reason why dogs are given to Battersea for rehoming. Battersea helped to develop the model tenancy agreement but key areas, such as defining what constitutes a reasonable excuse for landlords to turn down a pet request or how any appeals process might work, are still to be addressed. How do the Government plan to take these issues forward?

My Lords, it is fair to say that Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has been involved in the development of this agreement. Indeed Peter Laurie, the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home interim chief executive, welcomed the announcement that demonstrated the clear continued commitment to improving access to pet ownership for renters as well as helping to support and promote responsible pet ownership. The purpose of the agreement is to ensure that there is no blanket ban on pets and to consider each pet on a case-by-case basis, and to accept a pet where they are satisfied that the tenant is a responsible owner and the pet suitable for the premises.

Does my noble friend recall the importance that Winston Churchill attached to his pets, which included budgerigars that flew around his bedroom, to the discomfort of visiting Ministers? Would not the great man have been distressed that so many landlords are denying their tenants the affection and companionship that loving pets provide? Perhaps my noble friend can hear a famous voice muttering those words, “Action this day”, to get those new tenancy agreements widely applied, so important in this context, and to bear down on the landlords who are not using them at the moment.

I am grateful to my noble friend for pointing out the views of the great man. We recognise that domestic pets bring joy, happiness and comfort to people’s lives. We have seen that particularly in the pandemic. We also recognise that the model tenancy agreement is a step forward. We need to see its wider adoption, which is why we will work hard to ensure that landlords adopt it as often as possible.

My Lords, I endorse the purpose of this Question. I declare my interests as set out in the register, which inform these comments that I hope are constructive. Is the Minister aware that it is possible to have conditions such as that if pets become a problem, the offer is rescinded—and also that it is possible to put in a clause stating that money must be charged for cleaning, especially where hairs become a problem. So there are ways that could help landlords give permission if they were encouraged to do so.

My Lords, I am aware that measures are in place to facilitate wider pet ownership in the private rented sector, and I encourage landlords to work with tenants to ensure that there is a solution that works for both parties.

I draw Members’ attention to my interests as set out in the register. The Government recognised the importance of pets and made changes to the model tenancy agreement. However, not all landlords use that model agreement and it is voluntary, so some landlords can still say no to pets. Animal welfare charities, including Cats Protection, have helped tenants find lots of properties and use a cat’s CV—a template that outlines details about pets and shows responsibility of ownership. Will the Government encourage wider use of pet CVs to allow more responsible pet owners to keep their pets in rented accommodation?

My Lords, we are happy to look at any ideas that encourage wider pet ownership, and I will certainly take that back to the department to consider.

The Minister keeps talking about encouraging flat owners to do the right thing and allow pets, but he did not answer the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler: what are you actually doing to encourage this?

My Lords, we have set out a model tenancy agreement that encourages wider pet ownership. It also ensures that the landlord must give a clear reason why they will not accept a pet. This agreement strikes a balance between making it easier for responsible tenants to keep pets and ensuring that landlords are not forced to accept them.

My Lords, last week the Public Services Committee took evidence from a rough sleeper in Birmingham who was full of praise for the Everyone In campaign, which helped him and other rough sleepers into safe accommodation last year. However, he told us that rough sleepers with dogs were now at risk because hostels would not accept them. Is my noble friend aware of this problem and does he have a solution?

I am aware of the issue that my noble friend raises. We know how important pets are to many people, particularly rough sleepers. That is why we have supported a number of local schemes enabling people to find accommodation that will also accept pets. Housing authorities need to be sensitive to the importance of pets to some applicants, particularly rough sleepers, and I thank my noble friend for raising this.

My Lords, depression and loneliness have an adverse impact on health and cost the country millions. Having someone or a pet to look after takes us out of ourselves, and pets have undoubtedly helped mitigate the enforced isolation of the pandemic. Does the Minister agree that a more collaborative approach between landlords and tenants in keeping tenants happy and keeping property in good condition would benefit both?

My Lords, we agree that it is precisely that which has required a collaborative approach that landlords and tenants can work through to find practical solutions and ensure wider pet ownership in the private rented sector.

My Lords, I much agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, and the noble Lord, Lord Singh. It is very important, particularly for single older people, to be able to have a pet. Some ideas to perhaps consider are that, if landlords could render a modest additional rental for pets, it might be more attractive to them, and it might be worthwhile requiring insurance policies to be taken out by tenants. It might also be an idea to have a system of interviewing tenants and choosing tenants who seem to be responsible with regard to pets.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for coming up with practical suggestions for how tenants and landlords could work together to ensure wider pet ownership. It is of course for the landlord to consider each case on its merits.

My Lords, pets have done much to help those recovering from medical incidents. This cannot be overestimated. Following the updating of the Government’s model agreement for shorthold assured tenancies in January, to encourage landlords to allow pets, what will the Government do to help allay landlords’ concerns over the inadequacy of a five-week deposit to address any pet damage at the end of the tenancy? Are there plans to allow for a larger deposit to be taken at the outset or, alternatively, a monthly sum to be added to the rent to pay for damage that is refundable at the end of the tenancy to the extent that it is not required? I declare my interest in rental property as in the register, but I have no tenants who have asked to have a pet—although some have them quietly without mentioning it.

My noble friend is right to point out the impact of the Tenant Fees Act 2019. The Government recommend that the rental deposit of five weeks is a maximum rather than a default. Charging a deposit of four weeks’ rent would provide leeway to expand it to five weeks for such things as pet ownership and also to take up some of the suggestions that we have heard today around insurance or potentially looking at rent levels to accommodate wider pet ownership.