family pets homeownership

Pets and children: Can landlords legally turn them away?

Tenants with pets and children often find it more difficult to find a rental home, but there is some confusion over what the current rules allow in the private rented sector.

At present, there is no law to explicitly prevent landlords from rejecting applications from tenants with pets or families with children from their rental properties, although the rules regarding blanket bans and discrimination in the sector are expected to come into force under the Renters Reform Bill.

However, one case that was heard by the Property Ombudsman recently, involving a family with four children which was consistently rejected by landlords and letting agents, found that blanket bans on letting to children unfairly discriminate against women, and this is against the sector’s code of practice.

This is because, effectively, banning children from a property is likely to disproportionately affect women. The decision made by the Ombudsman means the organisation’s member agents will not be able to issue any blanket bans on their listings.

In the aftermath of this case, housing and homelessness charity Shelter has urged the government to bring in a law “straight away” to ban discrimination against families with children, rather than wait until the Renters Reform Bill takes effect.

Blanket bans could be criminalised

Recent research by the BBC, which scanned the databases of a number of property listing sites over a four-day period, found that 24% of rental adverts on OpenRent specified that families were not eligible to rent their properties. This amounted to 1,800 properties advertised.

On Zoopla, open discrimination was less of an issue, with around 1% of all listings analysed over the period – amounting to 300 adverts – stating that they would not accept children.

Responding to the BBC’s research, Adam Hyslop, OpenRent’s founder, said that enabling landlords to show their tenant preferences helped renters prioritise their searches.

“The decision of who to let to is entirely with the landlord. We also do not prevent tenants from enquiring about any property,” he said.

Meanwhile, a Zoopla spokesperson said: “We’re unable to find clear evidence that agents are adopting blanket bans when uploading rental listings to Zoopla, which would be in breach of guidance.”

All agents that lists on Zoopla must follow both its code of conduct and the law, and the property portal recommends agents use “inclusive language and avoid marketing homes as unsuitable for a certain type of renter”, said Zoopla.

What about pets?

Another level of discrimination in the sector that many hope will be improved by the Renters Reform Bill involves tenants with pets.

At present, if a landlord does issue a blanket ban on pets in a property within a tenancy agreement, this could be struck out if challenged in court. Normally, a tenancy agreement will state that a tenant needs to ask the landlord’s permission before keeping a pet in the property, and the landlord can reasonably refuse.

Of course, some rental properties would not be appropriate for certain pets, such as where a tenant requests to keep a large dog in a flat with no outside space, for example. However, as the National Residential Landlords Association has previously recognised, pets are “important to many tenants”.

According to the BBC’s research, almost three quarters (73%) of OpenRent adverts listed during the four-day period analysed specified that they would not accept pets, while only 6% said the same on Zoopla. This is partly because advertisers on OpenRent are given tick-box options to rule out children and pets, unlike Zoopla.

In a further comment on the BBC’s research, founder Hyslop pointed out that the most popular listings tend to disappear from the site quickly, while the less desirable ones remain, meaning the findings are “not likely to be accurate” based on the short-term snapshot taken.

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