‘No pet’ covenants are extensively used in residential leases in England and Wales especially in the private sector. They prohibit or restrict tenants from living with companion animals especially dogs. There is now an extensive body of research demonstrating the benefits to people’s physical and mental health derived from living with a companion animal. These covenants constitute a social problem because they deny tenants these benefits and can be responsible for separating people and pets forcing some tenants to rehome their dog. Given that many people now see their dogs as family members this can have a devastating effect on both the humans and the dogs. The dogs suffer the stress of separation, rehoming and in some cases, euthanasia.
There is no law in England and Wales regulating the use of ‘no pet’ covenants so it is left to the landlord and tenant to negotiate the matter. Research shows that pet-owning tenants feel powerless in negotiating the terms of the lease and feel a sense of discrimination. Housing shortages and a decline in home ownership, means there is significant unequal bargaining power between landlords and tenants so any freedom of contract for tenants to negotiate a positive pet’s policy is illusory. The Government in the state of Victoria, Australia passed legislation in 2018 to allow tenants to keep pets in rental housing (subject to exceptions) as a means of addressing the significant unequal bargaining power of landlords and tenants.
In my article ‘For the Love of Darcie: recognising the human-companion animal relationship in housing law and policy’ (2018) Liverpool Law Review I argue that pets come within Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (incorporated into our law under the Human Rights Act 1998) which protects a person’s ‘family and private life’ against intrusion by the state (including a local authority landlord). The nature of the close social bond people develop with their companion animals is akin to close human-human supportive social relationships. This means that local authority landlords can only prevent a tenant keeping pets where it is justified to protect the right and freedoms of others. France and Ontario, Canada have legislation to prohibit ‘no pet’ covenants but include exceptions to address the need to balance the interest of others. For example, in Ontario the landlord can evict the tenant where their pet substantially interferes with the reasonable enjoyment of other tenants or the landlord or causes them to suffer a serious allergic reaction. This demonstrates that legislation could be passed in England and Wales that is similar to this which would then be compliant with Article 8 ECHR because it would enable people and their pets to live together while balancing the interests of others.
Two recent online reports on ‘no pet’ covenants are available at:
A research report in 2019 by Cats Protection titled ‘Purrfect Landlords’: https://www.cats.org.uk/what-we-do/campaigning/purrfectlandlords
A research report in 2018 by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home titled ‘Pet Friendly Properties’: http://www.bdch.org.uk/files/Pet-Friendly-Properties-Report.pdf
By Deborah Rook | Principal lecturer in Law at Northumbria Law School