The hidden anguish of tenants forced to choose between housing and keeping their pets.
Many people are suffering needlessly when forced to choose between finding rental housing and keeping their pet. Many rental houses have pet bans in place which cause harms to individuals, families and their animal companions. The anguish that this causes is immense, the scale is enormous and yet few people are aware of what is happening in our country, so proud of its high standards in animal welfare. The Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) remains extremely concerned by the current situation in the UK wherein there is an increased demand for rental accommodation and a lack of properties that permit pets. Pets in housing bans are now the second commonest reason for pet relinquishment to shelters in the UK. The situation has been exacerbated by the Tenant Fees Act 2019 which removed the right of landlords to request a suitable pet deposit taken in case of damage caused by pets. The unforeseen consequence is that increasingly landlords now have pet bans in their properties.
SCAS has been advocating for positive pets in housing regulations since its inception in 1979, holding conferences and workshops throughout Great Britain, and delivering presentations at international conferences. Serious harms are caused when people are forced to choose between having a roof over their heads or keeping their cherished pets, who are important family members. In my 40 years in veterinary practice, the most distressing situations involved people who were being forced by landlords to relinquish their pets or to face eviction. Their symptoms included chest and abdominal pains, retching, vomiting, uncontrollable shaking, being unable to eat or sleep. Those who relinquish their pets experience deep grief without closure, not knowing the fate of their loved companion. Some choose to keep their animal and become street homeless, and enter a Catch 22 existence wherein because they have a pet they cannot usually get shelter in a homeless hostel, as most hostels prohibit pets! Others are lost to suicide, as was the tragic case of John Chadwick in 2017. Such extreme suffering is unnecessary and has to stop.
What can be done?
The need for understanding
SCAS recently commissioned YouGov research which found the majority of pet owners would favour the reintroduction of pet deposits (40%) or the option of a landlord requiring pet owning tenants to have pet damage insurance (22%). A high majority of respondents were in favour of introducing positive pets in housing legislation (75%). The survey gives us an insight to the mindset of pet owning tenants but our understanding of the issues for all parties including pets and landlords needs to go much further. In response, SCAS has made this issue it’s number 1 communications priority. Our current funding call for original research will focus on pets in housing and will result in 7 new studies on this topic which will produce peer-reviewed publications and presentations at our themed annual conference in 2022.
The need for partnership
Together with our partners, SCAS continues to advocate for pets in housing including participation in webinars such as the recent parliamentary Pet Event and with online seminars held by A-LAW1. SCAS is planning Pets in Housing workshops at several national and international conferences this year and will be playing an active part in National Pet Month, which will focus on Pets in Housing.
The need for new legislation
The United Kingdom needs to catch up with other countries where positive pets in housing legislation has already been enacted. This was introduced to India in 1960; to France in 1970; to supported living in the USA in1983, and subsequently extended; more recently to Ontario, Canada, to Victoria, Australia and to social housing in New Zealand. There is currently a Pets in Housing bill before the UK Parliament2. This would prevent landlords from operating blanket bans. Please give this your support, write to your MP and sign the Petition.
Local authorities can also play their part by adopting a new approach introduced recently by Maidstone Borough Council. Pet owners in Maidstone will no longer be deemed to have made themselves “intentionally homeless” if they refuse accommodation that does not permit their pet. Maidstone implemented this policy change following the tragic suicide of John Chadwick caused by him being forced to choose between having a home or keeping his animal companions. Homeless hostels, most of which currently ban pets, can seek support from Dogs Trust3 and StreetVet4for information and support in implementing a pets allowed policy.
The need to equip stakeholders
SCAS is currently developing a series of leaflets to inform key stakeholders of the benefits of pets and how relevant issues can be addressed. A toolkit is also planned to help pet-owning tenants to access housing and to help landlords manage pets in their rental housing. We are updating the PATHWAY Guidelines which provide very helpful information for landlords about how to operate workable pet policies. There are proven financial benefits to landlords by allowing pets. Pet owners tend to remain in properties for longer – thus reducing fallow periods when properties are unoccupied. In recent research, landlords stated that pets do less damage than children or adults5. By not allowing pets, landlords greatly reducing the chance of attracting good tenants.
A better future for tenants, pets and landlords
SCAS looks forward to working with our partners to raise awareness of this topic that causes so much unnecessary suffering to people and their pets. Increasing our evidence-based understanding through new research, will help SCAS and our partners, develop resources to equip stakeholders for best practice. Together with legislative change, that brings back the options of pet deposits and/or insurance to cover damage by pets, an end can be brought to this crisis.
Contact Alison German with queries or requests for media support at email@example.com.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2049 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 24th – 25th February 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
- Human-Animal Relationship Awareness Week: UK No-Pet Clauses – A-law
- Jasmine’s Law: Andrew Rosindell’s speech in full | Andrew Rosindell
- Welcoming Dogs in Hostels – More to Dogs Trust
- StreetVet Accredited Hostel Scheme – Street Vet
- Tackling-Misconceptions-About-Pets-in-Rental-Housing.pdf (dq9sl48gkeyxk.cloudfront.net)
Below is a short film made by Susi Arnott that shares Edinburgh street people talking about their dogs: often their only reason to get up in the morning. Made hand-in-hand with vet Stephen Blakeway, who knew some of the dogs from drop-in clinics; and in conjunction with Vetwork UK and the Dunedin Harbour Centre, Leith.
How a loyal dog saved a homeless man’s life
Shane Wolf was homeless and struggling with his mental health. At a particularly low point, he wasn’t sure that he could carry on, and considered taking his own life. At his darkest moment, one of his dogs, Mr Fang, came up to him, and laid his head on his lap. He says he knew then he had a reason to live, and that his pets needed him to care for them.
Read the full story here.
28 February 2018 by Emma Dahm (SCAS Trustee)
The Labour Party played a blinder last week with the announcement of its 50-point animal welfare plan, with the inclusion of a clause to give tenants the right to own a pet. This penetrates the deep social issues that nag at the collective conscience, including the rise in homelessness and the housing crisis, mental health, and of course animal welfare itself.
But this is no political rant, the announcement just so happened to coincide with a conference I’m involved with as a trustee of the Society of Companion Animal Studies. This is a small charity that promotes the study of the human-companion animal bond and the importance of pets in society. One of our aims is to help housing providers, politicians, private landlords and care home owners understand the benefits gained from allowing tenants to keep pets. It was, however, good of the party to take up some of our messaging and get this topic in front of so many more people than we could ourselves!
Pet ownership is documented to have positive and far-reaching impacts throughout society, with some well-referenced examples being improved physical and mental health, lower blood pressure and reduced anxiety in children and adults. Dog ownership and dog walking is also reported to have a cohesive effect on communities that brings people together and acts as a ‘glue’ to help form safer and happier neighbourhoods.
Pet ownership is a complex topic with of course many variables, but the benefits are well researched and the wider economic impacts are also worthy of note. I think the statistics speak for themselves and, while only statistics, help build up a picture in fiscal terms at least.
- It is estimated that pet ownership in the UK may reduce use of the NHS to the value of £2.45 billion/year through reduced visits to the doctor.
- In 2017 2.28 million people in the UK were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder which cost the economy approximately £8.9 billion. It is projected that by 2026, 2.56 million anxiety-related diagnosis will be made, which will cost the economy approximately £14.2 billion.
- Fewer sick days from work from pet owners, giving rise to savings to employers and businesses.
- In the UK around one in five carers is forced to give up work – over £5 billion is lost from the economy due to lost earnings from individuals giving up work to take on caring duties.
- Classroom dogs help reduce truancy which is related to youth crime and youth unemployment. The daily cost of youth unemployment to the UK due to productivity loss is £10 million and with £20 million a week added on due to benefit payments the monthly cost is £360 million.*
In terms of the emotional benefits, anyone who has witnessed an elderly relative or friend reach to pat the little dog by their side for reassurance, or tickle the cat for a second, will appreciate how big a part that animal plays in their life. Pooch and Tiddles are absolutely considered members of the family, providing companionship, emotional support, a reason to get up in the morning, to socialise with others when out walking the dog, keeping fitter as a result, and not feeling so anxious about life. A pet also engenders a sense of security and can help build confidence in vulnerable members of society, including children.
And anyone who has witnessed such a relative being forced to give up their pet when moving from their own home into a nursing or care home, for example, cannot fail to be moved by the emotional trauma this relinquishment causes. Just heartbreaking. Forcing a person to give up a beloved companion causes massive welfare issues – for both the owner and the pet, which is then relinquished to an animal rehoming centre or, more often than not, put to sleep. The owner suffers terribly from anxiety, stress, becomes very upset, suffers feelings of bereavement, and this can undo all the physical good done through owning the pet previously. The person then needs care and attention from over-stretched resources, such as the NHS, GP or social services.
While home owners are in a position to choose to have a pet should they wish, others in social, privately rented and care home accommodation are often not given the option. It used to be thought that this issue just affected the elderly and the vulnerable, but many younger people are also affected.
A cycle of homelessness develops, where a person in a rented place is told to ‘get rid of that animal’ and many will, as a result of the strong bond with their pet, choose a life on the streets rather than give up their pet. Then, once on the streets they cannot get into safe accommodation again because they have a pet with them. And so the cycle continues. Encouraging all landlords to adopt a positive pet policy would help to break these cycles, reduce welfare issues and save hard cash for services such as the NHS.
This is a complex issue and it is understandable that landlords have reservations about allowing pets, but these can be dealt with, and on balance we feel the benefits outweigh the negatives. Many perceptions about pets and their bad behaviour come down to misconceptions or a lack of understanding of how pets actually behave. Some landlords are realising that tenants with pets actually stay longer and make few complaints, so are embracing a positive pet policy. This is fantastic news and we are using some of these case studies and will put them on our website.
Other parts of the world have embraced the idea that pulling apart pets and owners for what are arbitrary reasons does no good at all and have implemented changes to enable renters to keep pets. Housing tenants in France have had the right to keep pets since the 1970s, now other countries are following suit, including Belgium, India and parts of Australia.
*Statistics taken from The Economic Impact of Companion Animals in the UK, by Sophie Hall, Luke Dolling, Katie Bristow, Ted Fuller and Daniel S Mills (2017). It is an interesting read.