What should a managing agent consider if a leaseholder wants to keep a pet in their property?
Most leases have clauses regarding pets. While these clauses will vary from lease to lease, it is common for them to prohibit pets, save for where there is written permission from the freeholder or managing agent.
Indeed, the general theme in the leasehold sector, especially in high-rise leasehold premises, has been to fully prohibit the keeping of pets. However, there may be change in the air. Australia at present seems to be leading the way in to modernising the approach to the keeping of pets in leasehold premises, having recently done away with such restrictions.
In the UK meanwhile we have the Dogs and Domestic Animals (Accommodation and Protection) Bill. This bill aims to limit a landlord’s ability to impose a strict ‘no pets’ rule in rented accommodation and has been dubbed ‘Jasmine’s Law’. At present, this draft bill only considers assured short hold tenancies rather than leasehold properties, but it does perhaps suggest a softening of attitudes and a recognition of the importance of domestic pets to many individuals’ sense of wellbeing.
Recently, we received an enquiry from a managing agent client where a leaseholder had made several requests for permission to keep a dog. Due to other leaseholders having allowed their pets to foul in both exterior and interior communal areas, permission for pets had become fully prohibited in the block.
However, the leaseholder making the recent request alleged to be suffering from various health issues resulting in needing assistance in their day to day activities. This set of circumstances poses a difficult situation as refusal may amount to discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
Should a leaseholder present medical evidence and documents in support to their claim to be permitted an assistance dog, managing agents need to be very cautious and consider the evidence properly when considering the request, as refusal may indeed amount to discrimination.
Fair and reasonable
If your decision to decline a request to keep a pet is challenged by a leaseholder, the usual theme of ‘reasonableness’ comes in to play. And, aside from the wording in the lease, it often boils down to your decision-making process and whether this process is ‘fair’.
This was considered in the case of Victory Place Management Company Ltd v Kuehn in which a leaseholder was denied permission to keep a pet in their flat and so decided to challenge the decision. The leaseholder sought to argue, amongst many things, that the ban on pets (which was subject to consent), was itself unfair and that the management company was as such predisposed to refuse applications.
It was also alleged that the leaseholder needed a dog on medical grounds. However, the case was dismissed on the grounds that the leaseholder had failed to evidence that the decision-making process adopted by the management company was ‘unfair’ and that no medical evidence had been provided by the leaseholder.
Lockdown and the subsequent move to more people working from home has prompted many people to consider owning a pet – often for the first time – and it is likely that managing agents will continue to see a number of requests for permission.
We may see a shift in government policy to make private rented and leasehold properties more pet-friendly but, until then, each request must be judged on its own merits and in accordance with the terms of the lease.
It is also important to consider other leaseholders in the development and how permitting pets may affect their right to a ‘quiet enjoyment’ of their properties. If however a leaseholder can evidence a medical need for a pet, you should tread carefully – whatever the lease says.