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Life For Rent: How Do I Rent Somewhere While Owning a Pet?

Plus: one landlord claims that arguing over the deposit somehow means even higher charges when you move out.

by Vicky Spratt
21 November 2019, 12:45pm

I’m looking for a flat to rent at the moment as our landlord wants to sell, and since the new five week deposit rule came in (which is great, as we got loads of money back from this current flat’s deposit earlier this year), we keep coming across this: “If the landlord agrees to you having a pet, you may be required to pay a higher weekly rent.”

We’ve got a cat, and previously paid an extra £800 deposit in our current flat for it (and since got that and more back earlier this year). But surely this isn’t OK, as we’re not going to get that “extra rent” back… unlike a deposit where you’ll likely to get it back depending on damage, which also usually leans towards the tenants’ favour.

Have you come across this?

I have never been that impressed by people who like to see things in a vacuum. I think everything is linked – the political and the personal, the rational and the emotional. We like to separate it all out when it suits us – Brexit was absolutely a rational vote against the hegemony of the EU and absolutely nothing to do with austerity and the fact that growing numbers of people can’t afford a home of their own. Sure.

But how do you explain how hysterical the landlord lobby becomes when politicians threaten to legislate the private rented sector? They lash out, they go wild in my mentions and it’s all because they want to believe their business is – as Boris Johnson recently glibly said of the monarchy – beyond reproach. They need to be able to sleep at night. We all do.

And I bet you sleep a damn sight better with a cat. Well, actually, if your cat is anything like the cats I have encountered, you probably sleep very badly because it’s trying to sit on your head. Anyway, reader, I digress.

The point is that the millions of renters in this country should absolutely be allowed to keep pets without having to pay for the privilege. This is an issue so hot that Labour put it on their manifesto during the last election because, as things stand, too many landlords deny tenants the right to keep an animal. And, as we know, studies have shown that having a pet can improve your mental health dramatically – even alleviating conditions like PTSD.

Sadly, though, it seems that there is nothing landlords won’t try to monetise. This is not the first I’ve heard of people being asked to pay higher weekly rent because they have a pet. It seems we have stumbled across loophole in the Tenant Fees Act.

Unfortunately – and please don’t shoot the messenger – Shelter’s advisor agrees. The Act came into force in June this year. It capped deposits for privately rented property at five weeks’ worth of rent, regardless of whether a tenant has pets or not.

However, as Shelter point out, “the way that landlords can charge rent has stayed the same”. This roughly translates as: they can charge whatever they want if someone is willing to pay.

Shelter adds: “Rent levels for most private tenancies are set against market rents and can be influenced by the availability and costs of similar properties in the area.”

In a nutshell, this means that your landlord could potentially charge more if you have a cat and they’re particularly likely to do so if they think you’re in a desirable area where someone else is going to pay over the odds.

However, I’m ultimately a romantic believer in the ability of most human beings to be decent (and pretty lazy), when all is said and done. I would suggest that you do try to negotiate. Finding decent tenants is more of a ball ache than landlords or letting agents get on. If you haggle, you might just find that the universe can swing you a deal.

I’m writing in as I had a really stressful experience with a landlord as I was moving out of my last property. After moving out, he returned £700 of my £1,200 deposit.

After seeing an itemised list of the charges, I felt the majority were unfair, and told him (very politely!) that I disagreed with the deductions made and why. He said that he would accept the points I had made but... and I quote directly from him:

“I would like to highlight that I am also entitled to charge a cleaning fee, of which I didn’t, however I would now do so ... I would also like to highlight any costs charged for damage were a nominal contribution. If we were to enter into a dispute, I would seek to recover the full costs for all damage.”

Essentially: not agreeing to give any more of my deposit back by coming up with new charges, and threatening to make more charges if I pressed the matter! My biggest question is: is this allowed? Is this just a dick move?

Ugh, OK, let me take back the relentless positivity and faith in humanity that I ended my last answer with. Sorry, don’t know what came over me. I forgot we were in the middle of a housing crisis and thought this was The Secret audiobook.

I’ll get to your landlord – whom I’m pretty sure is a complete joker – in a moment. First I want to tell you a short story.

When I moved out of my last flat, the landlord took nearly my entire deposit. He charged me for broken toilet seats which… weren’t broken. He charged me for repainting the entire flat… even though the walls had been damaged by soot from an old fireplace I had flagged to him on multiple occasions. He charged me for a tap which had come slightly loose… because it wasn’t fit for purpose in the first place.

To really drive the nail into the coffin of my tenancy, he told me when I said I was disputing all this that I was “sensitive” and that he had expected I would “negotiate” because “this is business”.

It wasn’t business to me. It was all of my savings, my home and my future security. Therein lies the difference between the way landlords and tenants approach deposits. For a tenant, it is likely the biggest chunk of cash they have to their name. For a landlord, it is too often seen as free money. A nice little bonus when a contract ends.

OK, back to you. I’m guessing that you and your landlord didn’t have some sort of prior agreement that they would charge you less at the end of your tenancy in return for you not disputing the amount they wanted to take from your deposit? Because, for future reference, you’d have been wild to enter into any such thing.

According to Shelter’s advisor: “Landlords should only make reasonable deductions at the end of the tenancy if they’ve suffered a financial loss – and they should be able to prove it! This could include damage to the property caused by the tenant and/or rent arrears. Deductions shouldn’t be made for normal wear and tear.”

Wear and tear covers the effects “normal day to day living”. So, scuffs and faded paintwork are OK, but your landlord absolutely shouldn’t be trying it on for faded curtains, small scuffs on the walls or worn carpets.

“You’re well within your rights to dispute any deductions you don’t agree with, particularly if the landlord hasn’t provided proper evidence of the damage or the costs to repair it,” the advisor continues. “If the landlord did properly support their original deductions with proof, then it’s difficult to see how they can suddenly be adding on more charges now.”

I smell a rat here. I know from my experience and from that of the countless people who get in touch with me daily that some landlords do say they’ll deduct more from a tenant’s deposit if the tenant doesn’t agree with the initial amount. “While this isn’t strictly unlawful,” Shelter’s advisor continues, “it could impact negatively on the landlord if the tenant decides to take further action to recover their money – either through a dispute resolution service or through the courts.”

If you are an assured shorthold tenant (this is the standard type of private renting contract), then you should have your deposit registered in one of three government-approved protection schemes by your landlord.

The good news is that these schemes all offer a free dispute resolution service. “Depending on the rules of the scheme,” says Shelter, “the fact that your landlord tried to charge you more after you queried the amount they wanted to charge may well be considered by the scheme when making a final decision on how much of your deposit should be returned.”

So, it’s worth getting the ball rolling on a dispute ASAP. However, the advisor adds, “if your landlord doesn’t agree to take part in the dispute resolution, the only other option is taking court action against your landlord to try and recover the deposit through a small claim or a money judgement.” But I know this would be expensive and time-consuming which, let’s face it, is a huge barrier for a lot of people.

Persevere – don’t give up on your money. Deposit disputes are, in my experience, so often a battle of wills. Keep all of the receipts – every last scrap of correspondence. It’s all evidence and you’re going to need it.

@Victoria_Spratt

Tagged:
housing
HOUSING CRISIS
rent
pets
Life For Rent