Beware of the Dog! – Pets and Flats (Leasehold Properties)
As a nation of animal lovers, it obvious to us that when people start looking into moving house, they are just as concerned about where the nearest park is to walk the dog, as whether the local schools are good enough and how far away the nearest pub is.
What can sometimes not be obvious at the start, is whether the property allows pets at all!
If you’re buy a house, then it will almost certainly be freehold, in which case there won’t be any restrictions on pets. However, if you’re buying a flat, it will be leasehold, and the lease will set out lots of dos and don’ts. One of those don’ts could be a restriction on what animals can live at the property.
I’VE FALLEN IN LOVE WITH THE FLAT OF MY DREAMS AND THE CURRENT OWNER HAS A PET SO THAT MUST BE FINE
Not necessarily. They may be doing it in breach of lease so you need to be careful. If you haven’t started the purchase process yet, the best thing to do is ask the estate agent to check what restrictions, if any, the property has on animals. Whilst they are not legal experts, they should be able to get hold of a copy of the lease, and either let you see it, or read it through themselves and see if there is anything in there that mentions animals. It’s also worth remembering that any restrictions on you will also apply to the other flat owners, so there are some advantages to a clause that says, for example, that if you are going to have a pet, you have to be responsible for clearing up after it and making sure it doesn’t disturb other residents.
If there is nothing in the lease that mentions animals, then there is no restriction on pet ownership. However, if this is something that is important to you, make sure you mention it to us as soon as we start work on your purchase. Whilst we will obviously check the lease over very carefully, the more we know about your specific requirements, the better we can make sure we highlight anything that is of particular concern or interest to you.
THE LEASE SAYS NO PETS – BUT THEY CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO IN MY OWN HOME
Sorry, but actually they can. There have been several high profile cases recently where people have bought flats where the lease prohibits pet ownership, but the leaseholders have moved their pets in, regardless. The landlords took the flat owners to Court, where the flat owners argued that it was only one small animal, and that the clause was unreasonable. You may be surprised to learn that the flat owners lost – so not only did they have to either sell their flat or sell their pet, but they also had a big legal bill as they had to pay both their and the landlord’s legal costs.
SO WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO DO – EVICT ME! I OWN THE FLAT.
Sorry again, but yes, in theory they could evict someone who was in breach of lease. Obviously flat owners have a lot of protection, and the landlord couldn’t just come in and throw you out. There is a process they’d have to go through (which we will cover in more detail in our next article) but the bottom line is that if they go through with the whole process correctly, they could forfeit the lease so it would come to an end and you’d have to move out.
WHAT IF I OWN A SHARE OF THE FREEHOLD – I WOULDN’T KICK MYSELF OUT
Certain if you are involved in the ownership and/or management of the building that is an advantage, as you will have a say in how things are done, but you won’t be the only person who has a say, and there would have to be a vote, in accordance with the terms of the company’s manifesto. So even owning a share of the freehold is not a guarantee that you can keep your pet, but if you can get the other freehold owners on your side, and can offer them comfort that your animal will not be damaging or disruptive, it is possible that a deal can be done.
SO THAT’S IN THEN – I HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN MY PET AND MY NEW PAD
Not necessarily. If the lease prohibits pets, you don’t have an automatic right to have the lease changed – the freeholder is under no obligation to change the lease just because you think he’s being unreasonable. However, there is often a deal to be done. Some landlords may be willing to vary the lease, in return for a fee and the payment of their costs. Others may not be willing to change the lease, as that change would benefit not just you, but all future leasehold owners and he may not be willing to be amenable to everyone, but he might be willing to grant you a licence. This is an agreement that would be personal to you, and could be revoked. So, for example, a licence might say that you have the right to have an animal in the property, so long as it’s small and quiet. They would have the right to cancel the licence if they had evidence that the animal was making a persistent noise after 10pm or before 5am (I hope it can tell the time!)
This is obviously something that needs to be addressed and negotiated early on in the process, as if it’s not possible, or not possible on terms that you can accept, then this may not be the right property for you. If it is something you’d like to explore, we can approach the landlords on your behalf and see what terms can be negotiated. Please note however that Express Conveyancing and our panel solicitors can only do this if we are already instructed to conduct your purchase conveyancing formalities.
WHAT IF I’VE ALREADY BOUGHT MY FLAT
Well it’s never too late. Even if you are already in your new abode and you fall for that doggy in the window only to find your lease doesn’t allow pets, it is still worth asking your landlord if there is any room to negotiate. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. If your landlord is willing to discuss possible terms, let us know, and we will happily take over the negotiations, and prepare the necessary paperwork.
SO WHAT ELSE CAN I FIND OUT FROM READING MY LEASE?
If you’ve ever had the pleasure (!) of reading a lease, you’ll know it covers much much more than just what animals, if any, you can have. If you want to know more, you’ll need to go to our next article!
For now, here’s what’s important on pet ownership in flats
- Is it important to you whether you can have animals in this property either now or in the future?
- If so, make sure you check what the lease says, and make sure you tell us that this is important to you. Don’t just rely on what the seller or their agents do or say.
- We will be able to advise you on what restrictions, if any, are in the lease.
- If the restrictions prevent you from doing what you want to do regarding pet ownership, our advice would be to either negotiate a change or licence with the landlord (which we can help you with), or look for another property.
- If you buy a property knowing that there is a restriction on pets, and you go ahead and have a pet in the property, you could end up having to choose between the pet and the property, and it could be very expensive for you.
Disclaimer – our articles are designed to give you guidance and information. There is no substitute for proper direct advice, particularly as everyone’s circumstances are different. If anything in this article may affect you, please contact us for advice that is specific to your circumstances.