“Labour will give renters a default right to have pets, which is the case in many countries, including Belgium and Italy.” tweeted Tom Copley, London Assembly Member this week. A man who clearly knows an evil landlord when he sees one and who has never had to hoist a feline urine soaked sofa out of a flat.
London’s best known animal shelter, Battersea Dogs Home, has launched a campaign for a more consistent approach by the capital’s social housing providers when it comes to pets, stating that 10% of those it takes in are due to landlord refusals to accommodate. Some councils / housing associations will and some won’t, meaning long term tenants moving in can be forced to give up their much loved animals. A heart breaking situation in situations which are often traumatic enough. I understand the campaign when social housing is the issue, as tenancies are frequently lengthy but I’m sad to say I have a real issue with this campaign as regards the much more transient private rented sector.
Alongside the Battersea campaign, the first ever think tank for pets has also just been launched to address the severe lack of pet-friendly rented accommodation generally across the UK. A committee of animal-loving economists, charity representatives from Crisis and RSPCA, property pros and vets front the unique all-pet policy institute, initiated by SpareRoom. They even employ cats and dogs as ‘research assistants’, to help better educate landlords and emphasise the positive effects that pets can have on tenants and properties. The pets visit rented homes and demonstrate to landlords how well-trained cats and dogs might behave and treat their properties. Hmmm.
Back in August I questioned a tweet by New Start Magazine which claimed that “Animal-loving renters have long had to suffer landlords who insist on a no pets clause..” Suffer? An emotive word indeed. The tweet was linked to an article in their magazine which described a new scheme in which pets are ‘interviewed’ and assessed as to whether they’d make good tenants.
Now, before giving my current take on this as a landlord since 2001, I’m going to ‘fess up as a cat lover. Yes, weirdly, the two can co-exist. Not just a cat lover but an adopter of two moggies abandoned by student owners, and someone who also started out on her property ladder renting with a kitten. And also a landlord who has chosen, five times, to rent to tenants with pets – three cats, two dogs.
But who would absolutely never do it again.
So why? Why would someone who loves cats, loves pets, choose to deprive others who rent of that same joy, the joy of unconditional love from an animal you love right back? Why would I be so cruel and so heartless? Experience, that’s why. Let me, with a heavy heart, explain.
You see, it isn’t the pets who need vetting. It’s us owners. It’s owners who fail to groom, fail to clean cat trays, and fail to de-worm. It’s owners who allow hallways to fill with hairs, dogs to sleep on sofas and fleas to forage on their cats. It’s owners who tramp muddy pooches paws inside in winter, let frenzied felines scratch the furniture and never open the windows for fresh air to sweep away the smell that only an owner loves.
I started off all positive and trusting and have relaxed the usual No Pets Rule five times to allow tenants, widening their eyes and promising me their pets are ‘no trouble at all’, to move in. I consider myself a good landlord, having great relationships with tenants who often send their friends our way, or move away for work and then come right back to us again years later. We keep homes in great nick, with regular maintenance and constant contact. We like people and we like pets. In fact, back in 2011 I wrote this all about Dave below, asking why more landlords didn’t like Daves too.
Dave was cat No 1, and was ace. In a flat with timber floors and access to outside, Dave caused no problems at all, apart from a few minor scratches to table. Me & Dave had no issues.
Then I got wise. I met more pet owning tenants.
Dog No 1 moved in. He was described as ‘not staying that often’, just the occasional weekend. This was not true, but not in itself a problem. The problem was that the tenant really couldn’t be bothered to walk further than the front door and figured no-one would notice if deposits were left as presents all over the communal garden. Didn’t even make it to the soil, just to the white gravel, several times a day. Nice.
Cat No 2 was a house cat, in a two bedroomed ground floor flat with an external courtyard. I figured that’d be fine. Several months in I found out they actually kept the Cat (yes, that was his name, which explains a lot) in the damp dark cellar, locked down there all day because of the burglar alarm. This freaked me out. I expressed my concern and Cat was moved up into the flat. When the tenants moved out, new tenants immediately moved in – it was a lovely looking apartment. Within 24hrs the girls were bitten to shreds and we discovered the whole place was so riddled with fleas that they had to vacate. It took full fumigation of the flat, twice, and throwing away most of the soft furnishings, to clear the infestation. The tenants paid for all of this, but that’s kinda not the point. At that point I resolved no cats with any carpeted flat.
Cat No 3 was an absolutely sweetie, in a flat with a vinyl tiled floor. Easy to clean – I thought I’d nailed this one. Unfortunately this little monkey liked to pee up the back of the sofa, meaning a very stinky moving out period with an expensive owner deposit reduction. And honestly, if you’ve never cleaned cat hairs out of a radiator, you’ve never lived.
Finally Dog No 2, another ‘small dog’. If knee high is small that is. My fault for not insisting on meeting him. This flat actually needed decorating & we were short on time to do so. I’d been contacted by my personal favs of the whole pet sagas – Jennifer and Tom. They desperately needed a place to live as they’d sold their house and the new one wasn’t ready for a few months. Because they’d a dog, no-one would rent to them and I wanted to help, giving them a six month tenancy with an exit clause inserted should their house be ready early. The flat had wooden floors, so it seemed like an ok fit for a short term let. They even signed an amended tenancy promising to pay for any canine damage or issues. Within weeks a quite unbelievable moulting situation had given two of the other tenants in the building catastrophic allergic reactions. One girl moved out, only telling me the reason on the day she moved. In fact her parents told me as she couldn’t return to the building. We lost a great tenant, she lost a flat she loved living in. Despite repeated requests to the tenants to clean the communal hallway as agreed, it was always full of hairs and I cannot tell you the state of the actual flat when they moved out. There were hairs everywhere, it was rank. In the bed slats, in the shower, in the kitchen drawers. Everywhere. The flat was left in a filthy state, they got cleaners in who didn’t actually clean and when I issued a very reasonable bill for the exit clean, they told me that it was my responsibility as a landlord. To quote Jennifer, my spending hours cleaning up the hallways after her pet was “an equitable share of the responsibility of allowing a dog into 96”. They paid the cleaners who didn’t clean and said I as the landlord had to suck it up. They complained to My Deposits and to be quite honest, it’s such a protracted faff of a process, that it wasn’t worth the fight for £80. I just swore never, ever again to rent to pet owners.
Because it can be owners who are selfish, and irresponsible, and lazy, and dirty. Not pets. Cats can’t de-flea themselves. Dogs can’t vac up. Humans are the ones who need to take ownership and responsibility for mess and damage, yet often treat the homes they rent with disregard and disrespect. Over two thirds (69%) of landlords surveyed by Spareroom said they wouldn’t allow pets in their properties and that figure, based on my experiences, doesn’t surprise me at all.
Spareroom cited smell (57%), potential damage to the property (55%) and concerns they won’t be trained (37%) as their main reasons for not allowing pets. And amazingly* 88% of pet owners claim they’ve never experienced any complaints and that their pets have never caused damage to the property.
*not amazingly at all.
So what would would persuade us caring landlords who actually do like pets to change our minds?
- A comprehensive contract approved by bodies such My Deposits, the NLA, Spareroom and others which would need to include full responsibility by the tenant for any problems caused by them not caring properly for or training their animals, and subsequent damage to the property. And we’d need to be guaranteed that when clear evidence exists, that this agreement would take precedent over any excuses or rebuttals proffered by tenants.
- The rectification of damage – smells, hair, urine staining, chewing etc etc – would need to be rectified to the landlord’s standard. You do know you can’t smell your own dog right? And that a cat owner can become oblivious to the stench of a rank cat tray, unfortunately for everyone else in the building.
- Certainly not more insurance – why should landlords pay extra next year to cover damage by Fido this year?
- Personally I’m not persuaded by the idea of charging pet owning tenants more money per month, as that’s doesn’t really feel fair.
- With regard to Labour mooting the idea of forcing landlords to accept pets into a building, there surely needs to be a written agreement that if others in the building are affected by allergies or noise, the pet’s gotta go.
What about you, do you think landlords are just being mean? Should we be forced to take other people’s pets into homes we’ve spent time and money on whether they have to care for them or not?
Or do you agree that owners need to step up and take full responsibility both on a day to day basis and financially for the pets they choose to own?
I’d be interested to know your take on this furry little issue!