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Problem pets: keeping animals in rented homes

22 May 2018 • Rebecca Evans

With a recent Labour Party announcement proposing to allow tenants the default right to keep a pet in their rented home, we explore whether this would be a positive change for Registered Providers, and what recourse is available to landlords should animals become the source of nuisance behaviour.

 

When pets become a nuisance

A nuisance is considered to be ‘a person or thing causing inconvenience or annoyance’ and Croftons’ Housing Management team has dealt with a high number of cases where a pet is considered the source of nuisance. In such cases they can not only affect those living in the surrounding properties, but also the RP’s ability to carry out their housing management functions.

Examples Croftons has dealt with include:

  • A dog being left alone in a rented property, and becoming malnourished. As a result, the property, and neighbouring properties began to smell of faeces, causing distress to neighbours and the pet itself.
  • Pets causing extensive damage to rented properties i.e. scratched or chewed plaster to the walls, wooden staircases, etc.
  • Dogs becoming aggressive to neighbours, contractors or the RP’s employees when carrying out their duties.
  • Dogs continuously barking within the property throughout the day and night – a regular issue.
  • Chickens getting out of a property and causing inconvenience to neighbouring tenants and properties by digging up gardens.

The legal options

The majority of RPs make allowances within their tenancy agreements for pets to be kept at their rented properties, as long as permission is obtained, but in our experience we find this permission is very rarely obtained. Or, where a tenancy agreement allows for one pet to be kept at the property, we see tenants keeping a larger number of animals, all unknown to the RP and with no permission obtained.

In most scenarios we face our clients have instructed us to assist them in dealing with or alleviating the nuisance. The most common course of action is an injunction to force the tenant to remove the nuisance - i.e. rehome the pet so that it is no longer causing an inconvenience.

Another firmer option open to RPs is to consider pet nuisance a breach of the tenancy agreement and commence possession proceedings to enforce the agreement, with reliance upon Ground 12 of the Housing Act 1988.

The use of this ground would not, however, lead to a mandatory possession order, but would allow the judge to use their discretion when considering whether to make an outright or suspended possession order. The RP would therefore need to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that the animal in question is:

  1. being kept at the property in breach of the tenancy agreement; and
  2. is causing a nuisance at the property, and to the neighbouring tenants.

Once this evidence has been forthcoming, it may be that the judge suspends the possession order; with the caveat that the tenant is to remove the animal from the property, thus alleviating the nuisance for the RP.

These are, of course not the actions tenants wish to face, but in balancing its duties, the RP has to consider not only the impact upon the tenant, but that of the wider community and the effect that this nuisance is having, and will continue to have should it remain in situ.

Neither of the options are to be taken lightly by landlords due to the cost associated with both, and the possibility of costs increasing should the injunction/possession proceedings become defended matters.

The courts take breaches seriously

We can highlight the recent high-profile case of Victory Place Management Company –v- (1) Florian Gunter Kuehn & (2) Gabrielle Maria Kuehn when considering the stance that the Court may take in these circumstances. While this case related to a leasehold agreement, it highlights that the court takes breaches of such agreements very seriously.

In this matter the agreement contained a boilerplate covenant that no animals were to be kept in the property without the written consent of the management company but the leaseholders failed to gain said consent for keeping their dog in the property. The landlord commenced injunction proceedings in an attempt to remove the dog, and despite the application being defended by the leaseholders, the High Court found the policy and the boilerplate clause not to be unreasonable, or unfair. When upholding the injunction, the Court also took into account the views of the other leaseholders in the building, all of whom supported the application, and the dog was ordered to be removed from the property.

Conclusion

Most RPs require consent for pets to be allowed in their rented properties, and if this consent is not obtained, and the pet becomes a nuisance, RPs are well within their right to commence the necessary legal proceedings to alleviate the nuisance. The recent Labour proposal will not stop this, but will place a burden of proof upon the tenant to prove that the pet will not become a nuisance; or is not a nuisance. It can therefore be argued that the recent proposal will have more of an impact upon the tenant than the RP.

If you are experiencing issues with tenants’ pets causing a nuisance in your neighbourhoods please get in touch with our Housing Management team.

 

 


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