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Renting with Pets - What is an AdvoCAT?

AdvoCATS is a non-profit, voluntary organisation, which works locally in the East Midlands to help landlords and tenants with issues over pets in rented properties, and campaigns nationally for a change in the law to make renting with pets easier for all parties.

That sounds very dry doesn’t it? Pull up a chair, grab an obliging cat and we’ll elaborate.

If you’ve rented with a pet in the last 20 years or so, chances are you will have experienced some difficulty in finding somewhere that’s pet friendly. Fast forward to the last 3 years and you’d be finding it a real uphill struggle. Stats show that only 7% of rentals are advertised as accepting pets: couple this with a 20% decrease in the number of pet friendly landlords since 2019 and a 120% increase in the demand for pet friendly properties and you’ll begin to see there’s a Really Big Problem in the private rental sector.

AdvoCATS was started in 2018 by 4 like-minded friends who’d all volunteered at rescues and seen the devastation of someone having to surrender a pet in order to keep a roof over their heads and the upset for another desperately wanting to adopt but not being allowed to because their rental agreement prohibited it.

AdvoCats at the RSPCA open day in Derby and meeting the Siddiqui brothers of Gogglebox fame

We describe ourselves as “politely argumentative” and seek to put together documentation demonstrating responsible pet ownership to help a landlord make an informed decision about the application in front of them. This includes our own Tenant Check (very much like a rescue’s home check), a Pet CV and a Vet Reference – plus anything else we think might help. We’ve helped people in the East Midlands, moving to the East Midlands and nothing to do with the East Midlands – directly, over the phone with local rescue support where needed and via the DIY Tips page on our website. We don’t charge for what we do (but donations are always welcome via our website!), we fundraise to pay our insurance premium, promotional costs, DBS checks and have a sponsor for our website. Now numbering over 25 volunteers in various different roles, we’re very proud to say we know our help and advice makes a difference : our success rate is around 70%.

In the autumn of 2020, we were approached by the office of Romford MP Andrew Rosindell who had a 10 minute Private Members Bill he was preparing for. Jasmine’s Law as it became known, looked to completely ban No Pets clauses in rental contracts in favour of responsible pet ownership. We contributed to the research for his speech in the House of Commons, and the bill sailed through its first reading.

It’s fair to say the bill wasn’t popular with landlords, who had some very valid concerns. The Tenant Fees Act 2019 had introduced a deposit cap which meant they could no longer request a separate pet deposit, and it’s that cap that led to the aforementioned decrease in pet friendly landlords. They were angry that they could be dictated to as to who they allowed in their properties without any real financial recourse if things went wrong. AdvoCATS reported back to Andrew and asked permission to undertake a research project on his behalf into what (if any) insurance options there were that could mitigate these concerns – a problem in itself, as the List of Permitted Payments under the Act prevents a landlord from insisting on any such insurance being held.

Complicated, isn’t it?

That report was the beginnings of the Heads for Tails campaign to change the Act : Andrew’s bill fell victim to the second lockdown and simply ran out of parliamentary time, but we knew we had the seeds of something quite significant, and set about doing more research, garnering more support and generally being a bit of a keyboard warrior – in the best possible way! Our proposals to add 2 options to the List of Permitted Payments – the ability for a landlord to request either a separate, financially capped pet deposit or pet damage insurance – have been described as “practical”, “considered” and “straightforward” and have secured a wide base of support from right across the private rental and animal welfare sectors, including the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), Propertymark, UK Centre for Animal Law, Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) and International Cat Care. AND those lovely people at ProtectaPet! Not only that, but over 40 MPs and Peers from right across the political spectrum also back the campaign. You can read the report here.

We’ve got a long way to go. But we’ve come a long, long way in the last 18 months.

Last December we were granted a meeting with Housing Minister Eddie Hughes and a follow-up meeting is planned in the next couple of months. We’re currently seeking additional support for the campaign, and are running a survey in conjunction with NRLA, Propertymark and LandlordZONE to drill down deeper into the subject of pet damage versus child/adult damage and the costs thereof, which will run til the end of April. If you’re a landlord, or you work for a lettings agency, you can complete the survey here. Regardless, you can lobby your own MP to put their name to the campaign and/or write to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities urging his support to adopt our proposals.

To follow our progress, please follow us on Facebook or Twitter - @advocatsem – and/or visit our website at www.advocatseastmids.org.uk If you’re local to the East Midlands and would like to get involved with AdvoCATS, please email us at advocatsem@gmail.com