It's an agonising choice, your home or your pet?
But it's one facing many more Britons as the housing market continues to splutter. Pet owners are being forced to give up their furry friends because landlords are reluctant to accept tenants with animals in their properties, according to the charity Dogs Trust. "Recently, we've seen a considerable increase in the number of owners contacting us about the difficulties they are experiencing finding privately rented accommodation that will allow pets," says Clare Kivlehan from the Dogs Trust, which has launched Lets with Pets, a campaign to convince more landlords to take animals.
Although three-quarters of landlords say they would allow pets, 54 per cent of pet owners were unable to find suitable accommodation, according to research undertaken by Dogs Trust. As a result, 14 per cent kept their pets secretly and 8.5 per cent were left with no choice but to give their pets to friends, family or a rescue centre. The charity, which has 17 rehoming centres across the country, is concerned that the credit crunch will only amplify the problem further. "Before the current economic crisis, many pet owners who couldn't find somewhere suitable to rent would be forced to buy. In the current climate this just isn't an option for many, and we're seeing an increase in people reluctantly handing over their dogs to us," says Ms Kivlehan.
The campaign website Letswithpets.org.uk is full of advice to help both tenants and landlords. The charity has compiled a list of top tips for prospective tenants to aid them in their search for a suitable home that they can share with their pets. Dogs Trust advises pet owners to put together an "animal CV" to alleviate any concerns a potential landlord might have. Common sticking points for landlords when it comes to pets are damage to the property, such as chewed wires and cables, pet smells, noise and fouling in the garden and surrounding areas. However, providing details on the size, breed, age and activity level of the dog, as well as information on any training classes and positive traits, gives pet owners a chance to convince landlords that they as well as their pets would make good tenants.
Similarly, any previous landlords, letting agents and vets can provide references and vouch for the good behaviour of pets. On a more practical level, home contents insurance and landlords insurance will not cover any damage to the property caused by pets, so offering to pay a larger deposit to cover potential damage will help. Promising to have curtains and carpets cleaned professionally before moving out can also make a big difference. "The general perception among landlords is that pets equal mess, carpets with fleas and smells that you can't get rid of, but that's not the reality if the property is treated and cared for like a home," says Mike Goddard, the chief executive of Belvoir Lettings, which supports the Dogs Trust campaign.
The website offers plenty of advice for landlords too, and with 43 per cent of the population owning a pet, any struggling landlords who make the decision to exclude pet owners could be shooting themselves in the foot by missing out on such a large part of the rental market. Dogs Trust says that a more pet-friendly approach can attract more dependable tenants, who take their responsibility as a pet owner seriously and are more likely to want to stay in the property for a long time. "We're making our members aware of the campaign and pointing out that there is a place for tenancy with pets and that it needs to be looked at on an individual basis," says Ian Potter, the operations manager of the Association of Residential Letting Agents (Arla).
Landlords can also include a clause in the tenancy agreement covering any policy regarding pets they wish to introduce. This pet policy can cover a set of conditions which the tenant must abide by, such as ensuring that all pets have been vaccinated and are regularly treated for fleas and worms and not leaving dogs unsupervised for more than a few hours. The policy should also include details of the higher deposit being used to cover potential damage caused by pets, but some landlords may want to take an extra, non-refundable payment at the start of the tenancy to cover costs of professionally cleaning the property when the tenants move out. It may also be prudent for landlords to include in the policy an agreement that there will be ongoing monitoring to cover all eventualities. "One of the issues is if the circumstances of the owner change, for example if they start working longer hours, the pet's characteristics could change," says Mr Potter. And policies may, for example, state that tenants must apply for written permission if wanting to obtain an additional pet.
Letting agencies can also make a difference by removing blanket bans on pets and persuading landlords to consider pet owners as prospective tenants. "We're pleased to be supporting the campaign and aiming to get all 146 of our franchise owners to support it because we think it's a fantastic idea," says Mr Goddard. He argues that current difficulties in the property market should make landlords more open and more understanding of tenants' needs. "Particularly in the current climate, where there's an excess of property in some areas, landlords should be encouraging tenants into their properties," he says.
Before deciding whether to take on pet owners, landlords should always check their title deeds. Freehold properties are generally OK, but leasehold properties are more likely to pose a problem. However, landlords can approach the freeholder to see if the terms of the lease can be changed. For a property within a block of flats though, landlords will need permission from all the leaseholders.
Anyone secretly keeping their pets in a rented home can face disastrous consequences as landlords have the right to cancel the tenancy agreement.
'We asked could we have a goldfish and they said no'
Marta Ciesta, 33, a researcher living in Manchester, found herself in a difficult position when looking for a new home for herself and her dog, Taff. "We got Taff in 2004. If we would have known how difficult it would be to find a place with a dog, we would have thought about it twice," she says.
It was impossible to find landlords willing to allow pets, despite offering a higher deposit, says Marta. "As a joke we once asked if we were allowed a goldfish, and they said no."
In the end, Marta was forced to pretend she didn't have pets: "When we left, they hadn't noticed at all. It was super clean and we even rented with the same landlord a year later," she says. Despite this, she wouldn't recommend the deception as she could never rest easy at home.
Marta is on the move again, looking for a new home in Wales, but is finding things a little easier this time, with estate agents more willing to consider tenants with pets. She advises: 'View a property, allow the estate agent or landlord to get a good impression of you and then mention that you have a pet and offer references, a higher deposit or even introduce the pet."