Are pets becoming more accepted in rented accommodation?

'Sundance the Cat' (Photo by Simone Brown)

With it being National Pet Month, Operations Director for Atlas Residential Stephanie Smith has looked at how creature companions are impacting the planning and delivery of build to rent services.

Times are beginning to change, and even the Labour political party has spoken out about their views on the matter. Earlier this year, they pledged to do more to help homeowners keep their pets when moving into rental accommodation.

In the past, the concept of keeping pets in rented accommodation has been frowned upon, causing much conflict between tenant and landlord.

There are two sides to this argument. On the one hand, it is understandable that landlords do not want to risk damage to their property. Some will draw the line at no large animals, allowing for smaller caged creatures such as hamsters and rabbits. But overall, there is a worry that when tenants move out, they are leaving a costly mess behind.

Recently in the news was YouTuber Kayla Jenkins, known to her fans as Okaylaaa, for apparently leaving her rented accommodation with “thousands of pounds” worth of damage, and £5,000 of rent unpaid. The focus of this story was that the damage was thought to be caused by pets. Landlord Paul Hopwood claims to have seen during his last visit to the property before she left “five dogs, four cats, two budgies, two guinea pigs and three rabbits” living there. Such a story is bound to leave landlords feeling hesitant to put their own properties at risk in such a way.

'Sundance the Cat' (Photo by Simone Brown)

‘Sundance the Cat’ (Photo by Simone Brown)

However, there are precautions that can be taken. In the case of rent arrears, there is protection available, such as our Rent Guarantee Insurance, providing cover against residential tenants defaulting or failing to pay rent.

Everyone wishes to have the perfect tenants living in their property, and a good way to ensure that they do end up with respectful tenants is to do a background check before agreeing a tenancy. Ask for references, or better still, consider using a professional letting agent to deal with this for you.

Asking for a certain number of weeks’ worth of deposit can provide a backup, if tenants to leave the house in a state. However, a cap is soon to be put in place, restricting this to 6 weeks, with the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) calling for it to be extended to 8 weeks. Still, requiring such a deposit provides incentive for the tenants to take good care of the property and leave it in an acceptable condition. Just don’t forget to put it in a tenancy deposit scheme, landlords!

The other side of the argument is that a ‘no pets’ rule is too strict. Keeping house-trained animals is a popular trend currently in the UK, and indeed many other countries. We have a bond with our little companions, who unconditionally love us back. It is becoming increasingly unacceptable for landlords to refuse the keeping of pets in their properties. But still tenants are finding themselves face to face with clauses stating that no pets are allowed.

Atlas Residential, the operator of build to rent apartments in the United States and United Kingdom, understand that the increase in demand for pet-friendly rental homes is a natural consequence of the shifting profile of renters in the UK who are looking for a more complete, long term lifestyle.

If we take a look at the English Housing Survey of 2016/17, it shows a 74% rise over the last decade in the number of households that rent. Over that time, the amount of families with children who rent their home has risen from 800,000 to 1.8m, of which 40% own pets. If this rise continues, the substantial amount of pet-owning tenants most probably will follow.

According to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA), the most popular pets in the UK are dogs and cats, closely followed by indoor fish.

Dogs, cats and fish are all thought to help relieve stress. As an example, a study of New York stockbrokers, undertaken by medical research Karen Allen, has found that owners of dogs and cats suffered only half the blood pressure increase of those who didn’t.

Bringing this discussion back to property, Atlas Residential has pointed out the importance of building design. There needs to be space for animals to run, play and do their business. Private gardens will have to be large and secure, providing a clear separation between the property and the neighbours. This could be considered an opportunity for the build to rent sector to take a different approach, as typical city apartments struggle to meet such a criteria.

They also have some lovely idea for cats, having suggested catnip to be planted around communal gardens, as well as welcome packs including tasty treats for pets. Such a gesture would cost little to provide, but would show a level of care and customer service that would distinguish the development from others.

It would also be important for a clear and concise policy to be put in place to ensure that a balance is maintained between tenants. As long as pet owners stick to the policy, then everyone should hypothetically get on fine. Atlas Residential has also suggested that when designing or amending contracts, it must be clarified that the pet owners are responsible for the control of their animal, including leads (even for cats) if they are outdoor pets. Owners would also need to make sure that pets do not harm the community aspect for their non-pet owning neighbours, and also for those who may have pet allergies. Adequate soundproofing will of course also need to be part of the building design!

Looking at places such as North America, where many people who live in apartments keep pets, there are plenty of designated “pet parks” or “dog runs”. Perhaps this may be the future for rental developments within the UK.

With the PFMA estimating that the UK keeps around 57 million pets, it’s baffling that the property rental industry has taken so long to adopt a more accommodating perspective for those wanting to keep pets.

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