A timely example of the current approach towards banning tenants from keeping pets.

Hot on the heels of Laura Tanguay’s article ‘Pets, property and politics’, the recent case of Victory Place Management Company Limited v Kuehn [2018] EWHC 132 (Ch) is a timely example of the current approach towards banning tenants from keeping pets, but also serves as a useful reminder of the risks of falling foul of the rules and regulations applicable to a block of flats.

The case concerned Mr and Mrs Kuehn’s application for permission to keep their Yorkshire / Maltese terrier in their newly purchased flat, of which they had purchased a long leasehold interest. Compared to short term tenancies, long leases are generally considered to offer tenants more freedom and flexibility in the way that they occupy their property, but invariably there will still be a set of rules and regulations applicable to the block of flats or houses in question.

That was the case at Victory Place, where occupier’s leases contained a covenant not to keep pets without the consent of the management company. In turn, the management company’s policy when faced with such requests was to operate a strict no pets policy, albeit with an acknowledgement that it may make exceptions in certain circumstances (i.e. for a guide dog or similar). Crucially, this policy was formed following consultation with the occupiers who vote in the board of the management company. Having seen an application to keep their terrier refused, Mr and Mrs Kuehn challenged the decision in the High Court on the basis that the strict policy meant that their application had been ‘illegitimately predetermined’.

The court dismissed the challenge, justifying the management company’s decision on the basis that the lease covenant only required the management company to operate a reasonable process in response to any request to keep a pet. The court found that the no pets policy was not unreasonable or irrational, and emphasised that it should be viewed in the context of the occupiers of the block having previously endorsed the policy. With this in mind, the policy could not amount to an illegitimate predetermination. Furthermore, the management company had demonstrated that it had been willing to consider any special circumstances which might justify the Kuehns keeping a dog in their flat, but that in the absence of such evidence allowing them to keep a dog would undermine the policy

As highlighted in our recent article, Labour’s new draft policy on tenants keeping pets – if ever passed into law – could affect this decision by imposing a statutory basis which would over-ride the landlord and tenant relationship and any prohibition on keeping pets. Until then, however, buyers of long lease flats should carefully consider any management company imposed rules and regulations applicable to their new home. Provided those rules are reasonable and rational, particularly if they were introduced with reference to the occupiers of the block themselves, there will be no easy way to avoid them.