We are a nation of animal-lovers. 45 per cent of UK homes have a pet, of which the most popular is man’s best friend, the dog (7.3 million), followed by man’s most inscrutable observer, the cat (7.2 million). But we also keep rabbits and rats, hamsters and horses, snakes and salamanders.
These numbers have swollen since the beginning of the pandemic, with millions of households responding to the isolation of lockdown by buying a pet. Nearly two-thirds of the new owners are under 35.
Despite all of this, speak to anyone who lives in rented accommodation, and they’ll probably tell you that their lease has a clear no pets rule: it comes straight off the boilerplate, with no smoking and no sub-letting. This leads us to two possible conclusions: millions of young people in rented accommodation would like a pet but are frustrated by the terms of their lease, or millions of people are lying to their landlords. The truth is likely a mixture of both.
Back in June, I wrote about Todd Ortscheid, who was pioneering the idea of ‘”landlord protection” to do away with the complex conditions of traditional leases and instead introduce a simple scheme to guarantee a landlord’s investment against whatever kind of loss or diminution. One advantage highlighted at the time was that it could mean the abolition of the no pets rules.
The issue is not merely one for rental tenants, either. If you buy a leasehold flat rather than a freehold, the lease may still contain provisions banning pets, even though you own the flat.
In January, the government announced new model tenancy agreements, which would only allow landlords to refuse tenants permission to own a pet in exceptional circumstances. The housing minister, Christopher Pincher, noted that “it can’t be right that only a tiny fraction of landlords advertise pet friendly properties and in some cases people have had to give up their beloved pets in order to find somewhere to live”.
These agreements are not mandatory, however. The government only recommends their use, and landlords can still hold firm. Only 120,000 properties in the UK are currently let on the basis that pets are allowed, which seems a rather slender figure for this nation of animal-lovers. Yet the demand is there: a third of younger tenants say they would pay extra rent to accommodate their pets, and pet-owners are good tenants, on average staying more than two years longer in their lease agreements.
How do we unite these interests effectively, bringing together an apparent demand with a latent supply? One new product is PetScore, effectively a registry for pet references which owners can use and landlords can access. This allows responsible pet owners to get the benefits of their well-behaved animal companions, and landlords to assess the actual risk to their properties in place of a blanket ban.
This service, devised by Natasha Home-Earley, will go live later this month. Its great advantage is that it is based on freedom and voluntary participation: it creates a space in which renters and landlords can act in their own interests to mutual good. Pet-owners can be rewarded for their good behaviour, and landlords can access responsible tenants who will not cost them money in the long run.
The ultimate goal could be a very valuable one: to strip away the unnecessary rules and conditions of leases, make them simpler and more understandable, and instead direct attention at what should be the operative part, making sure that landlords are reimbursed for any damage at the end of lease periods.
No more would landlords or agents be seeking indirectly or even unwittingly to tell their tenants how to live, but they would remain secure in the knowledge that they would not be left holding a financial baby. At the same time, renters would be able to own pets, or provide other kinds of reassurance of their good character and intentions, and live as if the properties were their own. That make-believe is, after all, the reality which a third of those now reaching 40 will experience forever, as home-owning becomes the privilege of the wealthy and the default mode of living becomes rental.