It's hardly news that with home ownership increasingly impossible for many in the UK, a lifetime of renting is now the reality for millions. In England alone, the private rental sector is at its highest since the 1990's, at 3.8 million households. But for many, it's not merely a case of "Oh well I can't own, I'll rent". Many renters face a further hurdle; their pets.
Results from a 2012 Pet Food Manufacturers Association survey indicate 48% of UK households own a pet, up 2% from 2011. I'm no maths genius, but surely it's fair to surmise that with private rentals plus pet ownership on the rise, going forward, at least one or two applicants for each rental property will have a pet. But after being priced out of the home ownership market, pet owners face a time consuming, often fruitless search, and sometimes outright discrimination from both letting agents and landlords.
Few rental ads on the internet state pets are welcome. The bulk of them don't mention pets at all. Yesterday I resuscitated my dodgy maths skills and conducted a survey of my own. Using the popular property search engines Citylets, Rightmove and Gumtree, I searched properties in Edinburgh using criteria relevant to me. From 19 results on Rightmove, 15 didn't mention pets and 4 stated they weren't allowed. All 20 ads on Citylets mentioned pets, but there were 16 negatives, 2 affirmatives and 2 maybes. Of the 9 Gumtree properties (all agency ads), again none specified a pet policy.
I then rang a random selection of the agencies with no mention of pets and asked whether that omission in the ad therefore meant pets were acceptable. Most, of course, said that was incorrect, but had to check the individual property details to confirm. Others said it's possible some pets were allowed, but they'd have to consult with each landlord first. So not exactly clear-cut. If I'd stuck purely to the printed information, I'd only have a miserly 2 out of 48 flats to choose from. Ringing each agent, and sacrificing a couple extra hours, it's possible I might have at least increased that to say, five?
Judging from that very unscientific study, it's plain to see the vast majority of private landlords won't even consider a pet. I can only speak as a cat owner, but by ruling out pets altogether, I think landlords are blindly excluding a large pool of potentially great tenants.
I understand the reticence. You've paid a shed load for a property, you want it looked after. I once had to have an entire kitchen bench replaced because of tenant damage, so I've been there. I've heard much worse stories too. But none involve a cat. So why assume a pet will damage your property? How a pet behaves is down to its owner, much like with a child and its parents. I once rented a house with crayon drawings and stickers all over the walls. Did that owner think twice about renting to a young family? Probably not. But besides the slight hindrance of it being illegal, there'd be mass outrage if owners imposed a "no kids" restriction wouldn't there? As long as common sense has been applied in relation to pet size vs property size, with most property damage, people are at fault, not the pets.
What's most worrying is that such a bias against animals could mean a continued increase in a horrible new trend. The Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in London have reported hundreds of pets a year being abandoned because the owners struggle to find a rental property which accepts them. They in turn struggle to rehouse animals in such large numbers. To me, giving up a pet is unfathomable, not to mention abhorrent, but it clearly shows the depths of struggle some people are facing.
So, my advice to renters out there who own a moggy or doggy, and are finding the rental search all a bit difficult, is don't be afraid to ask. With my current Edinburgh property, I replied to a "no pets" ad and found the owner was actually fine with cats, but not dogs. So don't discount the perfect property for you just because the ad says no pets. In the meantime, maybe real estate agents and landlords will stop being so narrow-minded and realise pets can sometimes be better tenants than humans. Most importantly, a change in attitude on this issue will hopefully save more pets the agony, and possible death sentence, that comes with abandonment.