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Tenants bite back

PET OWNING tenants are ‘biting back’ against Landlords’ strictures against pets in their properties – and as the housing situation becomes ever more desperate both for prospective tenants and landlords desperate to let out their properties, pets – especially dogs – are playing a pivotal role in lettings negotiations.

Writing in The Sunday Times last weekend, Rosie Millard outlines the scenario:

‘You are desperate to find a tenant for your empty flat. People are coming round to view it, but there is so much competition out there at your level that would-be tenants are also checking out rival properties which come with plasma screens, porters and bespoke saunas, and yours does not. Although it is immaculate.

‘Then an immaculate tenant appears. He likes the flat. He says he will take it. You are delirious with joy. There is only one problem. He has a dog. Two problems, in fact. He also has a cat.

‘According to people who make a living checking people in and out of flats, more and more tenants are insisting that doggy comes too. I call the management company that looks after my flats. "If they are not causing a nuisance, nobody worries about them too much," says Frank Phillip from The Avenue Agency. "Budgies are usually fine. The biggest problems occur with dogs. The landlord might want to know what breed it is."

‘Would my tenant be allowed to bring his two pets in, though? He reads out my lease. "The lease says that residents must not ‘keep any bird, dog or other domestic pet without the previous written consent of the landlord’, meaning the freeholder (in our case, a company made up from the owners of the flats). ‘Which shall be revocable at any time on complaint being made of any nuisance or annoyance by any other occupier of the building.’ So if your tenant’ s dog was barking like crazy, it would be deemed unreasonable and the permission to keep it could be revoked."’

Saying nothing is not a great policy. Amelia Greene from Cluttons estate agency in Kensington advises honesty: "Your tenants will get found out eventually. We once had a couple who moved into a very nice block in Notting Hill and smuggled in a cat. Stupidly, they left the litter tray outside the front door, and of course a neighbour saw it. It was all very embarrassing."

Flexible

Essentially, a pet-owning tenant has to be upfront and the landlord has to be upfront with the leaseholder of the building. Furthermore, tenants have to understand that if their pet is not universally loved in the building, they will have to be flexible.

Millard continues: ‘Take the case of dress designer Eric Way, his boyfriend Martin Tickner and their three "adorable" lapdogs. "We have two Shih-Tzus; Carrington, as in Krystle Carrington from Dynasty, and Logan," explains Tickner. "Plus a Bichon Frise called Storm because he looks like a little fluffy cloud."

‘Last year, Tickner, Way and the dogs all moved into a swish garden flat in Notting Hill. For a while, it was perfect. Eric and Martin got on with selling designer clothes to a clientele that includes Cherie Blair, Shirley Bassey and Ivana Trump. The dogs got on with running in and out of the French windows onto the patio and barking whenever a bird went past.

"Three months after moving in, the neighbours one floor up started complaining about excessive noise," says Tickner. "The agent gave us notice to move out. Our dreams were shattered. It was very difficult to find a flat in central London that would accept us. Three dogs is a problem. One is acceptable but three is a nightmare."

Even if one is the official canine model for Scooby-Doo leisurewear, as sold in Harrods pet department. "Oh, yes, Storm has the official Warner Brothers licence to model Scooby-Doo products," says Tickner. "Beds, leads, collars, you name it." Yet glamour is no substitute for quiet, and Tickner and Way started considering leaving London altogether.’

At this point the Church Commission came to their aid, offering a ground floor flat for rent on the same street as their boutique. It was ideal. "The Church Commission is anti-dog," says Tickner, "but because of Storm’s public profile it was prepared to waive the normal objections, with certain caveats such as extra care for the furnishings and carpets."

Amelia Greene adds: "There has been a marked increase in dogs coming over from abroad, since the introduction of pet passports. Our advice to landlords is this. Ask if cats can be declawed. This is already quite popular with American cats. And insist on an additional deposit to cover any pet-induced wear and tear. We take two weeks’ worth of money on top of our normal deposit of six weeks’ rent. Then the tenants have to have the property professionally cleaned when they leave, which covers the smell issue."

Greene appears to have overlooked one simple fact however: declawing is not carried out as a standard veterinary procedure in the UK, so if American pet owners were to have this done, it would need to be done in the USA, prior to the pets travelling over.

Agents can insist on quarterly, rather than six-monthly, inspections and Cluttons has devised a pet licence to animal-bearing tenants, which threatens pet removal should there be complaints from neighbours