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A guide to restrictions on pets in leases

Part one in a series of three articles examining the legal complexities around pet-ownership by tenants and leaseholders

Landlord’s Consent

The pandemic has seen a huge increase in pet ownership as households have settled into a routine of working from home. This is all well and good for a pet-owner who owns the freehold of their home and is not subject to any of the restrictions faced by leaseholders or tenants.

For leaseholders, the problem is that landlords have traditionally been concerned about tenants with pets and, in particular, the pets’ impact on the property and on other tenants in the building. This concern extends to potential noise, nuisance, damage and use of the common parts, including gardens, by animals.

Currently, only 7% of private landlords advertise pet-friendly properties. Legally, the tension between landlord and tenant stems from the would-be pet owner’s obligations under their lease.

Historically, leases of traditional mansion blocks prohibited any type of pet. Today, other residential leases maintain that prohibition or a qualified version of it under which a pet may only be kept if the landlord gives their express consent (usually following consultation with the other tenants).

Over the years, various legal challenges have been made to this prohibition and, in particular, in cases where consent is required, as to whether or not it was being reasonably withheld by the landlord. In light of what is referred to as “Jasmine’s Law” (a pet-friendly bill currently making its way through Parliament) and the government’s increased focus on animal welfare, there might be cause for hope for pet owners.

Can a Landlord withhold consent?

The case of Victory Place involved a management company of a gated residential development comprising 146 flats. The leases of the flats prohibited the keeping of pets without written consent, and the management company operated a strict “no dogs” policy in the absence of special circumstances.

Mr and Mrs Kuehn bought a flat and were subject to the conditions of the lease. They requested consent for their dog to live with them, asserting that their dog had ‘therapeutic value’ (although without providing medical evidence). The management company took issue and went to court seeking an injunction to remove the dog.

The court found that the management company was subject to a reasonableness test and should, amongst other points:

  • consider any special circumstances (particularly for medical support animals such as guide dogs);
  • use a fair process e.g. by consulting and taking account of the feelings of other tenants within the building, and
  • give consideration to the question of whether any other tenants in the building had been allowed to keep pets (by way of licence or otherwise)

Looking at those factors, the court found that the management company had satisfied the reasonableness test; it was entitled to refuse permission for the dog to be kept under the terms of Mr and Mrs Kuehn’s lease.

So, it would appear that, subject to the provisions of the lease, a landlord can indeed withhold consent as long as the reasonableness test has properly been applied.

In the next article in this series we will examine the Government’s ‘pet friendly’ revised model tenancy agreement.

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