As a recent first time buyer one of the benefits I was looking forward to most about owning my own property was being able to head straight to Battersea Cats & Dogs Home (and that is exactly what I did - meet Cloud below). According to the Dog’s Trust, who set up “Lets with Pets” almost half of UK residents own a pet. However, for pet-lovers one real disadvantage of renting or buying a flat in the UK is the common restriction on keeping pets.
Types of restrictions on pets
- The restriction may prevent tenants from keeping pets entirely; or
- The restriction may allow tenants to keep pets with the landlord’s prior written consent; and
- Usually even where tenants are allowed to keep pets with the landlord’s consent, the landlord will have the right to revoke its consent at any time.
Pet covenants - not all bark and no bite: as shown by the recent case Victory Place Management Company Ltd v Kuehn & Anor  EWHC 132 (Ch) (30 January 2018) love of ones pets will sadly not conquer all. In this case, Mr and Mrs Kuehn purchased a flat in a 146 flat-gated residential development where the members of the management company were the other tenants in the development. The lease contained a clause restricting keeping pets without the management company’s written consent and a strict “no pets” policy except where special circumstances (e.g. having a guide dog) applied. After buying the flat Mr and Mrs Kuehn applied for formal consent to keep their dog, Vinnie at the flat. The management company refused consent because despite Mr and Mrs Kuehn’s statement that Vinnie had a “therapeutic effect” no medical evidence was produced to support the existence of special circumstances for keeping Vinnie. The management company concluded that the application was based solely on the dog being part of the family unit and therefore was against the no-pets policy. Nonetheless Mr and Mrs Kuehn moved into the flat with Vinnie without permission and the management company issued court proceedings and obtained an injunction to remove Vinnie from the flat. Mr and Mrs Kuehn appealed but the High Court held the County Court was right to grant the injunction, ruling that the management company did not act unreasonably or irrationally. The lesson to tenants is don’t assume consent will be granted or that the pets covenant in your lease won’t be enforced.
Don’t hide the existence of pets: it is likely other tenants in the building or your landlord or management company will find out eventually. Breaching the covenant not to keep pets means the landlord could be entitled to re-enter the flat and terminate the lease, apply for an injunction to remove your pet or claim damages.
Negotiate your pet into the bargain: discuss keeping pets with the agent early on, ask about any pet policies and ensure this is communicated to and agreed with the landlord and any management company at the outset. Worst case scenario you walk away from that property early without sinking too much money into it. If that landlord won’t accept you and your pet then you’ll find one that will.
Flag pets as an important issue to your property solicitor: negotiation and creative drafting between the landlord’s and tenant’s solicitors can often get round pet restrictions effectively. For example parties will agree to water down a restrictive covenant on keeping pets so that the landlord’s consent must not to be unreasonably withheld or delayed. If pet issues are not dealt with before exchange or completion you could find that you’ve parted with your hard earned cash only to find that like Vinnie the dog , your beloved pet cannot move with you.
Be a responsible pet owner: the landlord’s or management company’s right to revoke consent is sometimes limited (check your tenancy documents to find out). Typically clauses will say something like “if the landlord or management company receives a bona fide complaint of nuisance or annoyance caused by the pet to any other owner or occupier of a neighbouring property”. For example, if you have a dog and act responsibly, train and pick up after it rather than letting it run amuck amongst your neighbours’ flower beds, the landlord is unlikely to have cause to revoke its consent.
Pawtential for change and hope for tenants?
Attitudes towards keeping pets could be changing and there are some landlords and management companies out there that are more accommodating to pets. For example last year I attended a panel discussion with representatives from the UK’s “Build to Rent” sector, which has been adapted from the USA’s multifamily model. One of the interesting characteristics of this model is that common parts and living spaces are sometimes designed to be “pet-friendly”. The building may include amenities for pet spaces ranging from pet showers, grooming stations and outdoor exercise spaces. The landlord can recover the cost of providing these pet-friendly amenities through an additional "pet rent" charged to the pets’ owners in addition to the rent, service charge, insurance rent and usual utilities.
For landlords - marketing properties as pet-friendly and consenting to pets more readily could be one element to staying attractive and competitive to tenants in a changing market.
For tenants - make sure pet issues are dealt with early on, don’t assume you’ll get consent to keeping your pet and if you do have consent, be a responsible pet owner to avoid consent being revoked. There is hope - pet-friendly properties are out there and more may be in the pipeline.