By J
04/01/2020

I wanna be your dog

I was listening to the Stooges this morning, drinking my tea and wondering if I could postpone those DIY tasks for just a little bit longer, when a Twitter post from Robert Jenrick MP (Sec of State for Housing) popped into view. The Minister proudly proclaims that he was “… announcing changes to the Government’s model tenancy agreement to make it easier for tenants to keep well-behaved pets in rented properties” and then offered me the chance to read a press release.

Now, I live for housing law. I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity like that. And it would mean postponing the DIY for at least another 10 minutes. Sadly, it was as poor as the 2012 offering (“Apres”) from Iggy Pop (seriously, that is a bad album – Iggy does “La Vie En Rose”). It amounts to this.

At some (unspecified) date later this year, the government will re-issue the “Model Tenancy Agreement” (here) so as to remove restrictions on keeping pets. Given that the model agreement isn’t mandatory, it’s hard to see how this merited a tweet and a press release.

Except that, if you read down further in the press release, the caveats show just how vague this idea is. Two particular points merit comment, one of which is more serious than the other.

First, the government is clear that it wants to encourage landlords to allow  “well behaved pets”. But who decides that? On what standard?

Secondly, and perhaps more seriously, there could still be a”…total bans on renters with pets…” but this “…should only be implemented where there is good reason, such as in smaller properties or flats where owning a pet could be impractical.” But size of the flat is relative to size of the animal, surely? If you’re going to keep a Great Dane then I can see that a one bed flat might not be idea, but if you’re really into stick insects then perhaps you could manage. Also, impracticality doesn’t come into it if the landlord is a leaseholder and his lease prohibits any pet (see, e.g. this case), or if the property is an HMO and the licence conditions prohibit pets.

Where does this leave us? With a silly press release and no meaningful reform promised or even contemplated. Just rely on your existing statutory right to keep chickens.

 

 

 

 

 

J is a barrister. He considers housing law to be the single greatest kind of law known to humankind and finds it very odd that so few people share this view.

13 Comments

  1. Ben Reeve-Lewis

    J as a lawyer, can you enlighten me on how laws are drafted? I get your comments about the definition there but surely things like this are drafted by experienced lawyers. Why dont they see the same problems?

    Reply
    • J

      I very much doubt that press releases ever go anywhere near a lawyer! I imagine this is a political initiative for a few cheap headlines rather than a serious statement of legislative policy

      Reply
    • RD

      Ben, having had the misfortune to be peripherally involved in a couple of Bills/Regulations, I can say that sometimes they are pored over by experts in the field well before they are passed by Parliament (such as the Homes (Fitness For Human Habitation) legislation). And at other times they don’t seem to have had any real expert attention from anyone, beyond what the MP might have read in the mainstream media/seen in their postbag.

      Luckily the committee stages, and occasionally the House of Lords, are there to knock some semblance of shape into a Bill before it is passed. But even then expert legal scrutiny is not completely guaranteed. The debates on the Sexual Offences Bill (before it was enacted in 2003) left us with such gems as one member of the upper House being rather too knowledgeable about chickens, and the Home Office’s cryptic reply that “lobsters” were the reason for one proposed amendment in the bestiality offence.

      Reply
      • Giles Peaker

        I was surprised – during the H(FFHH) bill – to find out that stress testing the drafting of a Bill with people/lawyers who would use the Act is not routinely done. Indeed rarely done at all. The civil servants seemed to enjoy the process.

        Reply
  2. Ben Reeve-Lewis

    Ah the press release comes first in this instance. then I pity the legal team charged with making “Well behaved” work as a legal concept. I keep a private collection of daft tenancy agreements. My favourite, from a large portfolio landlord is a clause prohibiting occupants from “Hanging around causing problems”

    Reply
    • J

      Well, remember that some of the earliest social landlords (from memory, Miss Octavia Hill) used to require tenants to attend manners and cutlery classes as a condition of the tenancy. Happily unenforceable post Rent Act intervention (RMR Housing Co-Op v Coombes),

      Reply
  3. zorrodp

    A related matter occurs to me. The (Canadian lawyer, so no doubt used to different precepts) daughter of a friend is moving to Newcastle to start a new job as a trainee international lawyer.

    When shewing her around possible areas to consider (to live) in Durham, she expressed an interest in keeping a dog, or even better a pot-bellied pig (I imagine of the smaller, Vietnamese, variety) as a pet.

    She also, acting as her own pilot using the Metro and visiting places I and local friends suggested, explored various locations on Tyneside and towards the Coast. Many of these would have been terraced houses built with a backyard and netty, designed to keep such animals as chickens or a pig, but not as pets.

    I hazarded a guess that even if (in this case private, but no doubt social housing agreements) tenancy conditions didn’t prohibit the keeping of livestock local bye-laws would almost certainly apply.

    She has by the way found a flat in fashionable Jesmond that would allow the keeping of a dog at least. Though she’d be responsible I have no doubt for the cleaning costs at the end of the tenancy – dog hairs and the like being a devil to get rid of. I should know, as my car of twenty years, that finally went for scrapping (twenty five years old, nearly) as it no longer met MOT or Mayor of London emissions limits, never lost the dog ‘taint’ inherited from its first owner that permeated the seating, and tended to come to the fore when it was damp. However many times it was valeted in the earlier years of my ownership.

    Reply
    • rupertolipton

      “…moving to Newcastle to start a new job as a trainee international lawyer”. Eh?!

      Reply
  4. Mark Prichard

    Disappointing. My streaming service doesn’t carry Après.

    Reply
  5. David

    It does not matter whether they are from the right or the left, politicians seem to have no idea, most Landlords obviously want to avoid pets at all costs because they just want less hassle. Some allow pets, but vastly exaggerate the damage caused as they know most tenants do not take adequate photo and video evidence of the state of a property. Nor do they think to Email the Landlord / Agent immediatly about that existing smell of wee or mould (so that there is timed evidence of same) not realising that they could be blamed for those 6 months down the line.

    On this subject, like most housing issues, the politicians simply need to talk to the more reasonable Housing Associations. They have forms and pet policies; a collection of which will tell you all you need know.

    Most allow small to medium dogs, even in 1 bed flats, as long as they do not cause a nuisance to other tenants in a block, will not be left alone and there is a commitment from the tenant to walk them for instance. HA’s almost always allow a cat, but if you go ask a pet rescue centre many refuse to allow a cat to go on the first floor or higher.

    Housing Associations do not typically provide carpets so they are not worried about damage to them, any that are in the property will probably have been put there by a previous tenant. So there are potential issues for a Private Landlord, but maybe this just requires some common sense, perhaps a requirement for suitable contents insurance built into the tenancy agreement. We see this with Landlords taking out British Gas Boiler cover to get prompt response for example when in reality that cover has been designed for the consumer.

    Pets can be a big factor in the mental health and well being of some tenants so I think this might be taken into account.

    They may also consider speaking to the DPS and other deposit schemes or rather to the independent ADR people in those organisations, because pet damage is often a factor in deposit disputes.

    Then when they actually know a bit more about the subject from all stakeholders, perhaps then that is the time to create a draft proposal and talk to Lawyers about the practicality and potential legal case law etc.

    Personally, I am not totally against a Landlord being able to have a no pets rule, I am more concerned with the Landlords that have a no kids and no benefits rule, but also in the Government policies that are responsible for such decisions by Landlords.

    It strikes me that Boris has told all of his Ministers to be seen to be doing something. we all know a reshuffle will come shortly after January 31st 2020, so I cynically wonder if this is just that. The planned oxymoronic changes to the model tenancy are about as clear as Labour’s policy on Brexit was to voters.

    Reply
    • Michael Barnes

      Tenant Fees Act bans requiring tenant to take out insurance (and is responsible for a reduction in landlords taking pets, as they cannot take a larger deposit to cover pet damage).

      Reply
  6. Judy M

    The irony is that this suggestion would not be so unpopular but for the deposit limitations placed on LLs in the new Tenant Fees Act. This is likely the thin end of the wedge – should this come into law, why should LLs have to pick up costs for pet cleaning/damage etc because they are no longer able to take pet deposits?

    I am a LL and have allowed tenants in the past to have pets (when pet deposits were allowed); thank heavens I did because of the clear up required. These days I would be very reluctant to allow pets without some financial assurance that I wouldn’t get stuck with the costs.

    I fear another reason for more LLs selling up and exiting the market, exacerbating the housing crisis. We will not tolerate the consistent meddling by the government and the un-levelling of the LL/tenant playing field.

    This announcement may get the govt a few votes, but if it loses a few more houses from the PRS, it is a spectacular own goal…

    Reply
  7. NR

    The Press release had no bite to it. Well behaved pets only. I presume the subjective test will come down to the individual LA or private Landlord. In respect of the private Landlord it appears to be a small move in the direction to allow the tenant to view the property as their own home, rather than just another house to occupy for 6-12 months.

    Reply

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