Although the general theme within the leasehold sector has been to not allow pets, especially in high-rise properties, this stance is becoming less common. This follows the Government’s decision to formally recognise animals as sentient beings in domestic law through the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill on 13th May 2021.
That being said, we would advise that your first step is to refer to the lease of the property in question and find out if there is a no pets clause included or a statement saying that prior consent is needed before you can keep a pet. Your stance on pets will be determined by which wording is included.
No pets clause
This is straightforward, as the clause should be written clearly and explicitly. It should forbid any pets, even temporarily, and highlight the actions that will be taken if there is a violation, plus any costs that may be incurred.
When prior consent is required
A statement asking for prior consent for keeping a pet should make it clear that each request, for each pet, will be considered separately. The clause should also highlight that if permission for a pet is granted, each rule must be adhered to, otherwise the privilege can be automatically revoked.
If this is the wording included within the lease in question, it is important that you detail the decision making process taken to determine whether or not to allow the pet. We would advise that this process is templated in order to ensure each request is treated the same.
Pet requests can regularly be due to the leaseholder requiring the aid of a dog and we regularly receive enquiries from managing agents asking for advice in these scenarios, especially when the lease for the property includes a no pet clause. This set of circumstances poses a difficult situation, as refusal may amount to discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
Under the Act 2021, an assistance dog is not defined as a ‘pet’ but as an ‘auxiliary aid’ and so is not caught by a clause prohibiting ‘pets’ within a lease.
If a leaseholder presents medical evidence and documents to support their claim to be permitted an assistance dog, managing agents need to be very cautious and consider the evidence properly hen reviewing the request, as refusal may well amount to discrimination.
Fair and reasonable
If your decision to decline a pet is challenged by a leaseholder, then the theme of reasonableness will come into play, and other than the wording in the lease, it will often come down to your decision making process and whether it is fair. This is why we advised earlier to document your decision making process and ideally template it, once you feel it cannot be improved upon.
With more and more people having moved to working from home or hybrid working, it has prompted a lot of people to consider having a pet for the first time. It is therefore likely that managing agents will continue to see the number of requests they receive increase.
In short it is important to assess each request on its own merits and in accordance with the terms of the lease. It is also important to consider other leaseholders within the development and how allowing pets may affect their right to a ‘quiet enjoyment’ of their properties. If however a leaseholder can evidence a medical requirement for a pet, you should tread carefully, ensuring that you document the process you followed to reach your decision, no matter what the lease says.