More tenants want pets - and they'll pay for the privilege

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ouse-proud property investors tend to look on pets with a jaundiced eye. But pet owners are an increasing market, particularly since pet passports have enabled foreign executives to bring their cats, dogs or ferrets. More than 50,000 pets have entered the UK this year already under the scheme.

"We have seen a 20 per cent increase in the number of tenants who have pets," says Nicky Chambers, lettings manager at Douglas & Gordon in Chelsea.

"Landlords tend to be more agreeable to smaller dogs than cats, which can scratch soft furnishings. Landlords quite often request references for the pet, provided by previous landlords, to confirm that the pet is a suitable tenant."

Pet owners also have to pay more to allow for the inevitable damage, Chambers says. "In most cases, they will have to pay an additional deposit of two weeks' rent, together with a non-refundable flea deposit to pay for clearing any infestations."

Caroline Pugh, lettings director of Friend & Falcke, says such is the demand for accommodation with pets, buy-to-let investors should take steps to ensure they can take animal tenants.

"Landlords are seriously limiting their market if they specify no pets. Ten years ago it was rare to find a tenant who included a pet in the family, but now 30 per cent of enquiries are from prospective tenants requesting accommodation for everything from rabbits and hamsters to cats and dogs. One tenant wanted to bring a huge cage of 50 birds."

Pugh recommends that landlords let unfurnished to pet owners and specify exactly which types of pets are acceptable. "We include a pet clause, known as a Paws Clause, in the tenancy agreement that specifies the breed, name and age of the pets, so tenants are not at liberty to replace Priscilla the Poodle with Rambo the Rottweiler without first seeking permission."

Tenants with animals such as guide dogs are often taken in as special cases by landlords. Gary Hall of Knight Frank says that in the case of an elderly and much-loved pet of a couple who wanted to move into a flat in Wapping, the landlord relented partly because the animal was too old to present much of a risk to the furniture.

He points out that in many older blocks of flats the head lease specifically prohibits pets, in which case the landlord's hands are tied. "New blocks are getting more tolerant of animals as long as they are safe and don't wee over the balconies," Hall says.

Sometimes, it is not so much the pets as their owners that cause concern. One agent has just let a house to a woman who has brought cats, dogs and a pet cemetery with her. Up to half a dozen dogs and cats were buried in the garden of the house she has just sold, and while she looks for a new home, all the bodies have been reburied in the rented back garden. This took some delicate negotiation.

In the case of a Turkish couple relocating to London, their agent's first task was to find a pet rabbit (Harrods came up with the goods) and then a suitable flat, where the couple's needs seem to have come a distant second to the bunny's. Friend & Falcke found a first-floor apartment with a terrace, but this was rejected as too risky and they eventually rented a basement flat with a yard where the hutch could be placed and the rabbit could safely roam. Pugh says: "We're used to meeting demands from tenants with children, but this is the first time the suitability of a property has been based on a rabbit's needs."

Sometimes, it is the pet and the agent who don't get along. Simon Buhl-Davis of Savills, for example, readily admits he is terrified of snakes. "I was told the property I was showing to prospective tenants had a pet snake in a glass case in the living room. I could not get the key in front door because my hands were shaking so much, and when we got to the living room I just completely froze in horror when it became clear to me that the case was empty, so where was the snake?"

At this point, Buhl-Davis blew his chances for whatever the estate agency equivalent of the VC is, and bolted. "I ran for the front door, leaving my laughing applicants for dust," he confesses.