New Law could Ban Blanket No Pet Policies

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‘No pets’. Just those two tiny words in a tenancy or long lease can cause so much heartache for people across England and Wales. But this could soon change. A new law may soon give tenants and leaseholders the right to keep dogs and other pets in their house or flat.

The Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation and Protection) Bill, introduced to parliament in February 2021, sets out new rules on when a tenant or leaseholder can bring a dog, cat or other domestic animal into their home, regardless of what their lease or tenancy agreement says.

Although the Bill has yet to progress any further, this could be the end of blanket bans on pets – a change many argue is essential due to the poor state of national mental health and the fact that many people have no choice but to rent due to increasing house prices.

However, not everyone is a fan of the new Bill. Landlords and property management companies argue that they are not out to stop their tenants from having fun when they implement these policies. Most have legitimate concerns about the issues that can come with pet ownership, such as noise, smells and property damage.

So, if the law changes, will there be any protection from irresponsible owners or will landlords be forced to change blanket ban policies to blanket consent?

Are blanket bans on pets legal?

Blanket bans in general are allowed in tenancies and long leases, although in certain circumstances it is implied that a landlord cannot unreasonably withhold consent to a request to have pets, and there are limited cases in which a ban may contravene discrimination legislation.

Our team recently acted for the property management company in a high profile case about blanket dog bans. This case represents a leading authority on how landlords and property management companies/agents can implement such bans.

What happened in Victory Place Management Company Limited v Kuehn [2018]?

Mr and Mrs Kuehn bought a flat at Victory Place which operated a strict ‘no pets’ policy and moved in with their dog.

They submitted a written request to keep the dog. However, the property management company declined, stating they had always implemented a ‘blanket ban’ on pets, although they ‘always consider special circumstances (such as a requirement for a guide dog)’.

The management company then issued a court claim against the couple and were granted an injunction requiring the dog to leave the flat.

The couple appealed on the basis that the management company had an inflexible policy and had made the decision based on a predetermined outcome – i.e. they had made their decision and were determined to stick to it before they had even considered the couple’s request.

However, the appeal was dismissed. The judge decided that the management company’s policy to exclude dogs was not irrational, but based on reasonable concerns, such as barking and the wishes of the other leaseholders on the estate. The fact that the management company was prepared to consider allowing pet ownership in exceptional circumstances supported their decision.

New rights for animal lovers

The new Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation and Protection) Bill will outlaw blanket bans and allow responsible pet owners a right to live with their pets in any rented or leasehold property in England and Wales. The government has also updated the model tenancy agreement to reflect the end of blanket bans.

To obtain this right, the owner must obtain a certificate of responsible animal guardianship issued by a registered vet.

For small domestic animals and cats, the owner simply needs to get the vet to confirm that the pet is healthy and that the owner is a responsible, caring pet owner.

Dog owners must fulfil a longer list of criteria, including:

  • The dog must be vaccinated and microchipped
  • The dog must respond to commands by their owner

The occupier will be required to seek prior written consent from their landlord, who must not unreasonably withhold or delay their consent and consider the occupier’s request on its own merits – this decision-making requirement is not too dissimilar to the existing law.

Under the Bill, a landlord can exclude animals if the owner does not have a vet’s certificate or if:

  • The owner is unable to care responsibly for them
  • The welfare of the animal is threatened by being kept in the accommodation
  • The animal is a danger or causes a private nuisance to other persons in the vicinity

The landlord can also exclude animals if they hold a certificate of exemption

When can a landlord get a certificate of exemption?

A landlord may get a certificate of exemption in certain circumstances, including:

  • If they have a religious or medical reason not to come into contact with a dog or domestic animal
  • The accommodation is unsuitable for a dog or domestic animal

What is a sufficient medical reason to ban pets?

The Bill as it currently stands does not expand on what medical reasons are sufficient. Possible examples might include allergies and phobias or animal-related trauma and mental health issues.

However, it remains to be seen to what extent the medical reason must affect the landlord to justify a certificate of exemption. For example, what if the landlord simply does not like dogs? Or what is they are worried about hypothetical health issues, such as toxoplasmosis (a parasite sometimes found in cat faeces)?

Given the landlord’s requirement to consider each occupier’s request to keep pets on its own merits, it is likely that each case will turn on its own individual facts.

When might accommodation be unsuitable for pets?

Landlords will be able to turn down pets based on issues such as property size or vicinity to neighbouring flats that would make pet ownership impractical and unpleasant for the neighbours.

If a landlord is concerned that a certificate of responsible animal guardianship has been issued incorrectly, they may have grounds to refuse the animal under this exemption. For example, if an owner is unable to control the animal and it is dangerous because neighbours live very close by, this could make the accommodation unsuitable.

However, as above, whether a landlord can do this will likely turn on the facts of each individual case. For example, is it ever okay to keep a dog in a small high rise flat? Perhaps not a husky – a breed that is both noisy and needs a lot of space and exercise – but a small, quiet lap dog might thrive in that environment.

Speak to our Property Litigation team about no pet policies

Our specialist Property Litigation team are on hand to help tenants, landlords and property management companies/agents resolve all types of residential property disputes.

We have specific expertise handling cases involving no pet policies and decision-making processes with notable successes including our work on the high profile case of Victory Place Management Company Ltd v Kuehn [2018].

To discuss your requirements, please get in touch with John Wagstaffe, Partner and Head of Property Litigation.

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Please note the contents of this article are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.