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Barking mad or fair enough?

View profile for Andrew Turner
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It is a restriction that you will find in many leases.  A ban on tenants keeping pets in the property.  An absolute ban seems pretty black and white; pets are banned, simple. But what if the lease says that you can keep pets but you need to seek the landlord’s permission? Is the landlord then under any obligation to consider and to respond to such a request reasonably and rationally? Or can he decide that, by way of irrational example, he hates tortoises and they are banned but he doesn’t mind parrots so they are allowed?  

In the recent case of Victory Place Management Company Limited v Kuehn, the High Court dealt with an appeal by two tenants who were fighting to be allowed to keep their dog in their flat. Their landlord had obtained an earlier injunction requiring them to remove their dog.

The tenants’ appeal was unsuccessful and the injunction was upheld.

The facts of the case were that the tenants in question had purchased a long lease of a penthouse flat in London.  They moved into the property with their beloved terrier, Vinnie. Their lease provided that if they wanted to keep a pet in the property, they would need to seek the landlord’s written consent. As it turned out, the landlord maintained a strict “no pets” policy. That, apparently, was the wish of the majority of the other tenants.

Having moved into the flat, the tenants sought permission from the landlord to keep their dog at the property but this was refused.  The landlord did later acknowledge that its “no pets” policy was subject to certain exclusions, including, for example, cases where tenants relied upon guide dogs or special assistance dogs. 

The tenants argued that their dog had a therapeutic effect and provided comfort during a stressful period of their lives.  But no medical evidence was produced to support this.  They also argued that a blanket ban on pets was irrational. 

The tenants ignored the ban and the landlord therefore obtained an injunction requiring the removal of the dog from the property.  The tenants appealed but the appeal was refused. 

The Court’s view was that the “no pet” policy could not be classified as unreasonable or irrational and that the landlord had dealt reasonably with the tenants’ request. 

After the appeal hearing, one of the tenants explained that:-

I am going to continue to campaign against these ridiculous, small-minded policies that discriminate against people with pets.  We live in a society of tolerance and inclusion, supposedly, and yet we don’t have people who recognise pets as companions, part of the family unit and part of our therapeutic well-being”.

It is understood that the tenants may be planning to appeal to the Court of Appeal. 

As a dog-owner and dog-lover, it is hard for me not to have considerable sympathy for these tenants.  By all accounts, their dog was well-behaved, quiet, and kept his head down and out of trouble. Some would argue that the tenants should not have purchased the property knowing, as they did, about the “no pets” policy.  But at the same time, if a lease states that pets can be kept with the consent of the landlord, is there not an implication that there ought to be some compelling reason for not granting consent such as, for example, the type of pet being proposed, the size of the pet, the noise or disturbance that the pet may create, and any other factors that might support a decision not to give consent? 

I think unfortunately the tenants in this case are on dubious legal ground.  The situation might be different if certain other tenants had already been granted permission to keep dogs in the building and if the tenants could show that the landlord’s decision in relation to their application was inconsistent with a precedent set by earlier decisions.  But this does not appear to have been the case in this instance.

It is regrettable that responsible pet owners in charge of well-behaved, well-trained dogs are still faced with what some would class as a form of discrimination but I have to admit, as much as it pains me as a champion of all things canine to say it, the tenants in this particular case bought their flat knowing about the policy and they should perhaps have considered whether this flat was not only appropriate for them, but also for their beloved Vinnie who now faces eviction.

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