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Can you have pets in a leasehold flat in the UK?

Britain has a long-standing reputation as a nation of animal lovers. In fact in the UK around 1 in 2 households own a pet, with around 20 million pets owned in total. It is no wonder that residential property agents are frequently asked if pets are allowed in flats. 

In this article we explore all the things to consider when allowing pets into a flat, from the point of view of both tenants and landlords.

For Tenants:

Are pets allowed in the flat that I am renting?

Landlords are often reluctant to let tenants keep a pet in their rental flat as there are often concerns about potential damage or noise caused by the animal. Dogs Trust found that 78% of pet owners have had trouble finding a flat which allows pets.

It is imperative that you check your tenancy agreement to see if there is a ‘no pets’ clause before you move in. If a landlord does allow pets, make sure that you get their agreement in writing. The landlord might have a covenant that allows them to withdraw their agreement if problems arise that impact the neighbours or damage the interior of the property.

It is also vital to inform the estate agent or property management company of your requirements for your pet when you are looking to rent or buy a property. When you buy a flat, it is most likely to be leasehold. If this is the case, the terms of the lease will specify whether you are allowed a pet in the property.

The other consideration that has to be prioritised when looking to keep a pet in a flat is the welfare of the animal. Many dogs and cats could be unhappy confined to a flat, especially if they don’t have easy access to the outside.

Another option if you wish to keep a pet is to buy a garden flat, but if the garden is communal there are likely to be a number of rules in place to make the outdoor space pleasant for everyone to enjoy.

How do you find out if you can’t have a pet in a flat?

All leasehold flats will have a lease which sets out the rules that you have to abide by. Take care when reading the lease that you understand what every term means, as it can be easy to overlook a vital point.

Pets aren’t the only potential restrictive clause in a property lease and you should look out for others. Subletting may seem an obvious one but even hanging your clothes to dry on your windows might be prohibited, alongside the installation of individual satellite dishes or aerials.

What if there is no mention of pets in the lease?

If there is no mention of pets within the property lease yet the landlord refuses permission to keep a pet, they may argue that pets aren’t allowed under a general nuisance clause. However, the landlord would struggle to enforce this if the issue was taken to court without concrete evidence of what was deemed to be causing the nuisance.

The law on keeping pets in flats

Under the unfair terms regulations – part of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 – you should be able to request that you can keep your pet in your flat despite a clause in the lease against it. Any such request should be fairly considered and not refused without reason.

Be wary of a landlord who removes the wording that says a tenant can apply for permission to keep a pet. If a landlord does this, this automatically renders the clause unfair and so – in theory – nothing in the tenancy agreement will stop you from keeping a pet.

If the freeholder then gives their consent to allow you to have a pet, your solicitor will certainly ask the freeholder for this agreement in writing. Other solicitors will want to go one step further and draft a deed of variation for registration at the Land Registry – but be aware that this will come at a cost.

What are the penalties for breaking the terms of your lease?  

You could be taken to court by the freeholder if you breach a no pets clause on your lease. The court would then order you to remove your pet from the flat.

Often a landlord’s permission for keeping a pet comes down to what type of animal it is. A large breed of dog simply unsuited to a flat will understandably be refused. If you simply want a goldfish in a bowl, it would be hard for a landlord to find a reason to refuse this request.

If you can show that there will be no problems with your pet, this will give you a stronger case. Your landlord will be concerned about potential noise and any possible damage to the property. They may consider allowing you to keep a pet if you can pay for the flat to be professionally deep cleaned when you leave. This could be funded using your deposit.

If you keep a pet against the clause and are on a shorthold tenancy agreement, the landlord can evict you using the section 21 procedure or simply refuse to extend your tenancy at the end of the term. If the animal is clearly inappropriate to be kept in the flat, the landlord has the right to take you to court even if you have a long fixed term tenancy agreement.

If you are a landlord and want to allow pets in your rental property, a tenancy agreement with clear terms and conditions will protect your property. You can specify what pets you will allow and refuse and who will look after the animal if the tenant is unable to do so.

Are assistance dogs are allowed in flats?

You are not automatically entitled to keep an assistance dog in a flat. In the case of Thomas-Ashley v Drum Housing Association Ltd [2010] EWCA Civ 265 a disabled tenant was not allowed to keep a dog in their flat, despite the dog being critical to maintaining the tenant’s health. This was not considered to be discrimination against disability by law as the terms on the lease were clear and applied to all.

If I buy a leasehold flat, can the freeholder still ban pets?

You can’t be prevented from having a pet if you own the freehold to the flat, however when you buy a flat, most properties are typically leasehold. You will therefore need the freeholder’s permission to keep a pet in the property, as you would if you were renting.

You should check the property leasehold to find out if there is:

  • A no pets clause
  • A statement saying that prior consent is needed before you can keep a pet

Including a no pets clause in a lease is straightforward. The clause should be written clearly and explicitly and it should forbid any pets being kept in the flat, even temporarily. It should highlight the actions that will be taken if there is a violation, plus any costs that may be incurred.

A statement asking for prior consent should make clear that each pet will be considered separately – it is not a blanket authorisation. The leaseholder has the right to refuse any pet. The clause should also highlight that if permission for a pet is granted, each rule must be adhered to, otherwise the privilege can be automatically revoked.

What are the best pets for apartments?

The welfare of your pet is vitally important. Some animals would be very unhappy to live in an apartment – especially larger animals, or animals that need outdoor space for their physical and psychological well being.

Pets kept in apartments also need to be fairly easy to exercise and feed. Pets are often social animals, so you need to have a lifestyle that allows you to spend time with them.

The best pets for apartments include:

  • Indoor cats – they make the most of vertical space
  • Small dogs – although they still need to go out for walks every day
  • Reptiles – they need warmth and light
  • Fish – they benefit your mental health, helping you to relax
  • Rodents – they are happy in cages and then exercised in the home
  • Insects – spiders and stick insects

What are the best dogs for apartments?

There are many dogs who will be happy to live in an apartment with you, but they are generally the smaller breeds.

Size is not the only practical factor when choosing a dog for apartment living. You will also need a quieter breed of dog, otherwise your pet could become a nuisance for neighbours.

Another factor to consider is the dog’s temperament. Some dog breeds may be small, but are also excitable and need more space to vent their energy, such as small gun dogs.

Your neighbours would also not appreciate meeting an aggressive dog in the lifts, stairs or communal garden.

Dog breeds that are best for apartment living include:

  • Boston terriers
  • French bulldogs
  • Bichon Frise
  • Bulldogs
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Dachshunds
  • Pugs
  • Yorkshire Terriers

For Landlords:

Most landlords don’t allow pets in their flats due to risk of damage to the property, however by allowing pets in flats landlords may be able to attract more prospective tenants. Tenants with pets also tend to stay in their flat for longer, meaning a lower turnover rate and potentially higher revenue.

Can a landlord ban pets?

Under the proposed Model Tenancy Agreement, announced on the 28th January 2021, landlords will no longer be able to issue blanket bans on pets. This agreement is not legally binding, but it is hoped that landlords will use it. 

Consent for pets will now be assumed as the default position and landlords must object in writing within 28 days of a written pet request from a tenant. Under these new agreements, landlords should only refuse a pet where there is good reason e.g. if the flat is too small. 

Furthermore, under these new rules, tenants must pass a “responsible ownership test” before moving in with their pet.This includes:

  • Proof of pet vaccination
  • Proof that the pet is microchipped
  • The pet must be dewormed and deflead
  • The pet must respond to some basic commands

Enforcing a no pets clause

As mentioned above, it is no longer a straightforward process to have a no pets policy. Tenants do now have a right to keep a pet, and landlords must have good reason to refuse this. If you still wish to implement a total pet ban, it must be for a valid reason, such as property size or surrounding area issues. 

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