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14 June, 2024
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Should tenants have a 'paw-sitive' right to pets?

Judges to decide tenants' right to pets in England

Source: The Guardian

Is a tank full of snakes in a bedsit OK? Would three St Bernard dogs in a two-bedroom flat be too much?

Judges are to be asked to rule on whether private landlords can “reasonably” deny a tenant’s request to keep a pet, under sweeping reforms to the private rented sector facing a key parliamentary debate on Monday.

The shake-up in the balance of power between England’s 2.3 million private landlords and their 11 million tenants proposed in the long-awaited renters reform bill will finally be considered by MPs. It proposes a ban on no-fault evictions, four and a half years after the Conservative government promised to end the practice.

However, the government has warned of fresh delays even if the bill passes, telling MPs last week that it must speed up the courts process first before the ban comes in.

Landlords can currently deny tenants who want pets, and some have charged “pet rent”. The new bill “requires landlords not to unreasonably withhold consent”, leaving a new ombudsman for private renting, and ultimately the courts, to decide what is reasonable – creating a new grey area in landlord-tenant relations.

The National Residential Landlords Association is calling for “comprehensive guidance” on when landlords can refuse animals, and fears “tenants and landlords will be in a state of limbo, with the prospect of inconsistent judgments by the courts”.

The government said on Friday that refusal could be reasonable if a pet was “clearly too large for a small property” or if another tenant in a shared house had a pet allergy. But it expects tenants and landlords will “simply have a discussion about what is reasonable”.

Renters groups say most landlords do not allow pets, in part because of fears of claw damage. It has meant some renters facing the choice between giving up their pets or facing homelessness. Close to a third of households renting privately now include children.

The Renters Reform Coalition, which represents tenant groups, wants a new right to keep pets, regardless of the landlord’s view. It said: “Once a tenant signs an agreement, it is their home.”

“If they want to have a pack of Great Danes live there, that should be their right, but they will also be liable for costs if the dogs tear the place up,” said Tom Darling, the coalition’s campaign manager.

The bill will also ask courts to rule on cases of antisocial behaviour, as the government plans to give landlords stronger powers to turf out badly behaved tenants. It is a move seen as reducing the impact of ending no-fault evictions for landlords.

Shelter’s chief executive, Polly Neate, said this was “deeply concerning” and “risks opening a new loophole for unscrupulous landlords to continue unfair evictions”.

The bill will also:

- Allow landlords to evict tenants for persistent rent arrears, if they are selling up or moving a close relative in.
- Allow landlords to raise rents annually to market prices with two months’ notice. Tenants will be able to fight excessive increases in the courts to prevent “back door” evictions.
- Establish a national ombudsman with whom tenants can raise complaints. Membership of a redress scheme will be mandatory for landlords.
- Set up a new database of private landlords and properties.

The bill will deliver “a private rented sector that is fit for the 21st century”, a government spokesperson said.

However, any ban on no-fault evictions will not take effect until at least next year – five years since the then prime minister Theresa May said they were “wrong” and “unfair”.

The government said last week it must first improve the courts system and said: “We will not proceed with the abolition of section 21 until reforms to the justice system are in place.”

Meanwhile, renters continue to suffer “revenge evictions”. Members of the London Renters Union said they were served with a no-fault notice this summer after complaining about mould and leaks.

“All we wanted was for our letting agent to deal with the serious leaks and mould in the flat, but instead we were forced to leave our home with two months’ notice,” said Mariam, one of the tenants.

She said the situation made her feel “really powerless”.

The debate on the bill comes amid cratering support for the Conservatives among renters. New polling by Opinium for the Renters Reform Coalition showed less than half of renters who voted Conservative in 2019 plan to back the party at the next election.

The same survey showed a majority of the public supports ending no-fault evictions and banning inflation-busting rent rises, and renters are due to protest outside parliament on Monday, warning MPs: “Vote down popular rental reforms at your peril.”

Eighty-seven MPs earn an income from residential property, of whom 68 are Conservatives, according to research by 38 Degrees, a petitions and campaigns website. Estate agent signs placed outside homes.

Labour said more than 70,000 households have been kicked out of their homes due to no-fault evictions using section 21 notices since the government first promised the reform in April 2019. It said more than 20,000 households have had bailiffs kick them out their houses as a result of no-fault evictions over the same period.

Angela Rayner, the shadow housing secretary, said tenants have been “left paying a heavy price for the government’s inaction with tens of thousands threatened with homelessness and receiving visits from the bailiffs”.

“Labour welcomes the long-awaited second reading of the renters reform bill, but we will look to strengthen it to ensure it meets the scale of the housing crisis this Conservative government has created,” she added.

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