Diving into ‘The Great Big Pet Debate’: Perspectives and Discussions

Tuesday, November 15th, 2022

The Tenant Fees Act 2019 (TFA) is a classic example of legislation having unintended consequences that sparked the Great Big Pet debate over the last three years. Heralded as government being a flag bearer for tenant’s rights, making renting more affordable, removing mandatory commitments in tenancy agreements, it certainly was a game changer for the Private Rented Sector. But not for the reasons government planned; the Tenant Fees Act had two competent parts that would make renting for millions of tenants more difficult and more expensive.

Firstly, under the new regime of permitted payments, an end of tenancy clean wasn’t one. Yes, tenants had to leave the property clean under the terms of their tenancy, but they couldn’t be made to pay for it, essentially then all properties were destined to only being domestically cleaned.  Secondly, the security deposit was capped at 5 weeks rent, and there was an additional clause that made it impossible for a tenant to volunteer to pay more.  Bear in mind, five weeks rent based on the average UK rent is only £1310, and in the event of any issues that needed addressing, has to cover rent arrears, cleaning, legal expenses perhaps, repairs and maintenance.

So, landlords faced a lack of remedy potentially if a property wasn’t returned in the same condition that it was offered and now had to consider how to reduce their risk, how could they reduce the amount of potential cleaning, repairs and maintenance required at the end of each tenancy so that five weeks rent might just cover what does need dealing with. The answer was to restrict the letting of their property to “Alpha” tenants, those that were low risk and presented the least amount of risk. On the high-risk register to one degree or another went undergraduate students, sharers, families with toddlers and of course large pet owners.

As the debate has evolved over the last three years, campaigners have been trying to steer the focus of the argument as to why landlords should still allow pets as normal, on to the existence of “well behaved” pets, “responsible” owners, veterinarian endorsed pet passports, and unlikely accidental damage, leading anyone reading to believe that a responsible owner, with a well behaved, well trained dog or cat, would be high unlikely to create any damage, ergo a five week deposit was sufficient. However, as any dog owner in particular will know, accidental damage, whilst a tangible threat, is not the main issue.

As any owner will know, who incidentally love their pets dearly, carpets become matted with hair, sometimes infected with fleas or ticks, get worn by the constant backwards and forwards from the supposedly clean paws that never really are. Door frames, skirting boards and windowsills become worn, wooden floors get scratched, lawns get ruined, flower beds dug up, there is a smell that often hangs in the background that anyone who doesn’t own a pet notices immediately.  None of which are avoidable, none of which are fair wear and tear to a landlord, none of which a responsible owner with a well-behaved pet who has a passport signed by a vet can prevent. And that’s all before we consider there might be some accidental damage on top.

So, who is going to pay for this when the Tenant Fees Act relinquishes the tenants need to?  Well wont the checkout show all these issues and a tenant will need to remedy?  If only it were that simple.  More often that not, a checkout clerk may attribute a lot of these issues to tenant wear and tear, as it’s a judgment call, and they have no way of measuring how much the wear and tear might have been caused by pets and would not exist if the tenants had lived alone.  Likewise, many landlords would before the Tenant Fees act insist a tenant with a pet steam cleaned the carpets on exit or lodged an 8- or 10-week deposit.  Neither are now an option.

The pet loving half of the debate have now suggested pet insurance as a possible answer to cover any potential issues, however there are challenges here as well.  It’s not a permitted payment, so who pays for it?  We are yet to see a sample policy, so what is covered, there are suspicions that as above, pet specific wear and tear will be hard to demonstrate and won’t be covered.  How do you justify the need to fumigate or steam clean carpets to make the property allergy free once more? I doubt an underwriter would ask for evidence of fleas or hair.   Then who makes the claim?  Landlords don’t want that hassle and the tenant will be long gone onto their next property.  This doesn’t appear to be a viable solution currently.

It’s now 2022 and over three years since Act came into force, and the industry is no closer to finding an answer despite all of the debate, and the real shame is that everyone feels like a loser.  Tenants feel rightly hard done by that rents have increased and finding a property that will accept a pet where they want to live, is nye on impossible, and even if they do, 20 other tenants will be competing for it.  Landlords feel aggrieved they have less remedy for their property than when you hire a car and resent the pressure that’s been placed upon them to renege, many of whom were perfectly happy to consider large pets before the TFA came into being.

Lettings agents are caught in the middle, whose job has now been made more complicated and time consuming than it needs to be, often finding conflict where before there was none.  There are no winners, and we are left with the question, was there a need for government to get into this detail, and why wont they now apply the painfully obvious amendment to the TFA to resolve this?

That amendment of course is to allow for a pet deposit, assuming it is a sensible amount that offers landlords the same comfort as before.  On writing, government has no plans to concede this point, whether distracted by the cost-of-living crisis, the revolving door of housing ministers, or is simply too stubborn to admit they have got it wrong.  One thing is for sure, the great big pet debate is likely to rage on for quite some time to come.

How can we help?

For landlords using the M A S O N S managed service, conducting regular inspections, and making sure your property is maintained to the highest standards during the tenancy is all part and parcel of the service.  Managing your property as if it were our own is a key part of what attracts so many landlords to Masons in the first place.

If you use our tenant find service, we highly recommend an independent check in inventory is compiled at the start of the tenancy and you carry out regular mid tenancy visits to make sure the property is being looked after.

M A S O N S is one of Hertfordshire’s leading lettings agencies. We offer an award-winning letting experience for landlords through highly flexible and quality property management services covering Hitchin, Letchworth, Fairfield Park, Stotfold, Biggleswade, Stevenage, Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield.

Contact M A S O N S today. Call 01462 557 477, or email [email protected]