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Calls for changes in housing law to help keep pets and people together

12th September 2018

Research by a Northumbria University law lecturer is being used to support a campaign calling for new legislation to keep pets and people together in housing.

Debbie Rook, from Northumbria Law School, is an expert in animal law and ethics. Her research has investigated why thousands of people living in rented housing in the UK are denied the opportunity to live with pets. She has also looked at why others are forced to give away companion animals when their circumstances change, and they move into rented housing that prohibits pets.

Rook explained: “Many pet owners see their companion animal as part of the family and are devastated at having to give them up for rehoming or euthanasia. Elderly pet owners and those with mental illness are especially susceptible as they are more likely to need to move into sheltered accommodation, the majority of which adopt ‘no pet’ policies.”

Rook’s recent article ‘For the Love of Darcie: recognising the human-companion animal relationship in housing law and policy’ (2018) Liverpool Law Review, Vol.39, Issue 1-2, p.29-46 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10991-018-9209-y shows how Society benefits from the human-companion animal relationship in the form of healthier, less isolated people with better social networks. Yet in the key area of housing, the law does nothing to protect or even recognise this relationship.

Rook argues there are strong legal arguments (in human rights law and consumer rights law) to support legislation that prohibits the use of ‘no pet’ covenants in residential leases. Such legislation exists in other countries including France (since the 1970s) and parts of Canada. This legislation prohibits the use of ‘no pet’ covenants but seeks to protect the rights of landlords and other tenants by including exceptions (e.g. pets who are a nuisance or cause severe allergic reactions may be excluded) and allowing additional ‘pet deposits’ to cover the cost of any damage to property caused by the pet (which in practice is rare).

As home ownership decreases in the UK, more and more people are affected by ‘no pet’ covenants in leases and are being denied the opportunity to enjoy the substantial benefits of living with a companion animal.

A petition has been started that relies on Rook’s research to call on the Scottish Parliament to debate the need for legislation to ban the use of ‘no pet’ covenants in residential leases and care homes. The issue was recently highlighted in the Scottish media when in 2017 Mr Robert Harvey, an 87-year old Scottish man was told to give up his 10-year old dog, Darcie, for rehoming or face eviction from his care home. For the love of Darcie he chose to move out of the care home even though this meant sacrificing better security, care and a sense of community he shared with the other residents in the home. Had he lived in France, the housing laws would have protected him from this stressful event.

Rook added: “This petition is a fantastic opportunity to bring an important issue into the limelight and get it debated in the Scottish Parliament. It needs 100,000 signatures by 10th October 2018 so please sign and share this petition. If a law is passed in Scotland, it will set a precedent for the rest of the UK so anyone who wants to keep pets and people together in housing should sign the petition wherever they live in the UK.”

PE01706: Introduce a law to allow pets in rented andsupported accommodation - Getting Involved: Scottish Parliament

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