Market forces will decide if landlords will be happy to accept pets - David Alexander

One unexpected phenomenon of the pandemic has been the unprecedented rise in public demand for domestic pets, dogs in particular, especially among those who live alone or have been forced to shield for medical reasons. It has been estimated that the number of household pets has risen by over three million as the crisis has unfolded.

Cats can cause damage to furniture

In previous articles I have, occasionally, referred to the covid experience as equivalent to the “war” those generations born after 1945 have been lucky enough not to experience, unlike their parents and grandparents. Well here’s another analogy. On the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, hundreds of thousands of people across the country took their dogs and cats to veterinary surgeries to be put down because they did not want them to suffer being killed or abandoned in the mass aerial bombing that was expected to happen at any moment (although air raids on civilian targets did not begin for another year). When this pandemic ends (or at least is brought under control) how many of those whose purchase of a dog was motivated by the crisis will wish to keep the animal once working and personal life has returned to something like normal?

Either way this is a dilemma unlikely to affect most of those who rent their homes privately because up to now it has been standard practice for tenants not to be permitted to keep pets, with the exception, perhaps, of a budgie or a hamster.

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Most landlords are not prejudiced against pets per se; in fact many of my clients are themselves dog- or cat-lovers. In practical terms, however, dogs, especially larger ones, are seen as an addition to “wear and tear”. Cats not so much so but some do have a tendency to use sofas as their own personal scratching board and as anyone who has owned a cat (or should that be owned by a cat?) knows, once a moggie targets a particular spot in a house it becomes very difficult to prevent him going back there time and time again.

But as a result of the pandemic, as in so many other aspects of life, things are beginning to change. North and south of the Border, legislation is moving towards greater provision for pets to be permitted in privately-rented homes, hopefully with adequate safeguards for landlords in respect of compensation for any damage caused as a result.

This has followed pro-pet interventions from various related organisations as well as a feeling among politicians that allowing pets in private rentals is a vote-winner and giving landlords an automatic right to refuse is a vote-loser – and we can’t have that, can we?

NOAH, the veterinary body National Office for Animal Health, has launched a campaign to improve access to pets for tenants on the grounds of their “scientifically-proven” contributions to improving mental health and reducing feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. It says that only 2.8 per cent of landlords in the UK advertise their properties as being suitable for pet-owning tenants.

The RSPCA, meanwhile, has claimed that being more receptive to pets is likely to be a winner for landlords on the basis that tenants with dogs or cats are likely to stay twice as long as those without them, thus boosting longer-term rental income streams without breaks.

In principle I welcome this trend; what I would not like to see, however, is a situation emerge whereby landlords are compelled, by law, to accept tenants with pets in yet another parody of “human rights” legislation. Given the current over-supply of rental stock and ongoing concerns about the ability of many existing tenants to maintain rental payments once the furlough scheme ends, many more landlords will now have no objection, in principle, to welcoming new pet-owning tenants with a stable financial and personal background.

“Market forces”, rather than the law, will be sufficient to sort this one out – as it does with so many other things.

David Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander

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