A tenant’s best friend?
13 May 2022
No one should be placed in the cruel position of having to choose between their pets and a home. Yet this is a problem that millions of renters have experienced, including those facing homelessness, because the vast majority of rental properties in the UK still exclude pets.
There is a huge gap between the demand for pet-friendly properties and the supply of welcoming accommodation. In 2021 just seven per cent of private landlords were advertising pet-friendly properties, but in the same year surveys suggest that 59 per cent of households had pets.
Shelter Scotland concluded in their response to the “Paws Clause” stakeholder consultation that the lack of suitable housing ‘directly led to people resorting to rough sleeping to avoid being separated from their pet’. It’s a problem across all accommodation types, from private tenancies to council and housing association homes.
Yet for those with serious mental health problems and other vulnerabilities, pet companions can be a lifeline.
In 2017, John Chadwick, from Maidstone, Kent, tragically died by suicide after being served with an eviction notice and separated from his cat and two dogs due to “no pets” policies in council-provided accommodation. His friend, Dee Bonnet subsequently ran a successful three-year campaign for Maidstone Council to allow pets in council properties.
What is the legal position?
The Government introduced a new model tenancy agreement for private landlords on 28 January 2021, which specifies that the default position is for landlords not to unreasonably withhold consent where a tenant asks for permission to keep a pet. However, landlords have discretion not to use this agreement and so it stops short of legal protections for renters with pets.
For those at risk of homelessness, the Government’s homelessness guidance for local authorities states that ‘housing authorities will need to be sensitive to the importance of pets to some applicants, particularly elderly people and rough sleepers who may rely on pets for companionship’ and so should consider this when housing people. Again though, this will not always be possible and does not amount to a legally enforceable duty.
Further, if someone facing homelessness is seen to have refused an offer of suitable accommodation, they are likely to be deemed “intentionally homeless” and therefore lose access to other accommodation options which may be pet-friendly.
‘it is extremely difficult to persuade landlords to make exceptions, even in cases where clients are particularly vulnerable and face homelessness’
For other tenancies with social landlords, there does not appear to be any guidance, statutory or otherwise, relating to applicants with pets, and so there is often little that lawyers can do other than to negotiate with social landlords to exercise their flexibility and discretion in finding accommodation that is suitable. However, often it is extremely difficult to persuade landlords to make exceptions where there is a no-pets policy, even in cases where clients are particularly vulnerable and face homelessness if they are forced to refuse.
Where tenants of social landlords breach a tenancy condition not to have pets at the property and eviction proceedings are pursued, arguments as to the reasonableness of possession can be made, particularly where there is good evidence of the detrimental effect that the loss of the animal companion would have on the tenant. However, in the absence of such evidence, the court is likely to find that eviction is reasonable.
The reality of such a lack of legal protection is that people with pets are struggling to secure accommodation and are becoming unavoidably homeless.
What needs to change?
Renters should be able to keep their pets, it’s as simple as that.
In recognition of the issue, MP Andrew Rosindell put forward a Private Members Bill in the 2019-21 parliamentary session with backing from a cross-party group of MPs called the Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation and Protection) Bill aimed at creating legal protections for renters with pets. However, the Bill has not progressed beyond First Reading in the Commons.
Given that the Government has acknowledged the problem, there’s a number of steps that can and should be taken to prevent homelessness and improve rental options for people with pets.
For social landlords, the Government should outline that the default position is for tenants with pets to be accepted, as they have tried to do with the new model agreements for private landlords. This should apply to all types of tenancies and accommodation, including temporary and supported accommodation, and would mean that many social landlords would need to amend their tenancy agreements to make them more pet-friendly.
In addition, the Government’s homelessness code of guidance should be amended to make clear that tenants who are forced to refuse an offer of accommodation because they will not be able to take their pets should not be deemed intentionally homeless and so should be eligible for further offers of more suitable, pet-friendly properties.
For private tenancies, the Government’s existing proposals should be strengthened by legislating against blanket bans on pets by landlords.
The current situation is cruel and unfair, and yet entirely preventable. The UK is a nation of pet-lovers, and it’s time for the rental sector to reflect that.
 See, for example, Sheffield City Council v Jepson  25 H.L.R. 299
If you are facing homelessness or eviction, please seek legal advice as soon as possible from your local Citizens Advice, Law Centre, Shelter office or other free legal advice provider.
The Dogs Trust Hope Project has compiled a list of hostels that will accept people with dogs.
This article was written by Lily Lewis
Lily is a member of the Housing & Homelessness team at Garden Court North. She has expertise in defending possession claims, statutory appeals under section 204 of the Housing Act 1996, judicial reviews of homelessness decisions, claims for unlawful eviction and housing disrepair, committal and injunction applications.