A pet can be a best friend in testing times. So perhaps it’s no surprise that so many of us have acquired cats, dogs, or even goldfish over the past year.
About half of those who bought a pet during lockdown already owned one, keen to enjoy more of the fun and health benefits that flow from canine, feline or any pet companionship.
The amount we spend each year on the animals that share our lives – and our homes – has more than doubled over a decade to £6.9 billion. About 10 per cent of households without a pet intend to change this in the next six months.
Creature comforts: Quintain Living’s Ferrum flats in Wembley Park. The Build-to-rent operator views pet-friendly policies as a blueprint for the private rental market
Yet, despite our wish to guarantee that members of our domestic menageries have every creature comfort, we have often fallen short.
For example, people with a cat or dog have struggled to rent homes, with only 7 per cent of landlords advertising pet-friendly properties.
But such prohibitions are set to end, as the Government’s new model tenancy agreement will allow those with ‘well-behaved pets’ to secure leases more easily.
A landlord must provide a good reason, such as the size of a property, to object to a pet.
Some landlords may be in two minds about this change. But there is mounting competition in the private rental market, thanks to the burgeoning build-to-rent sector, which is more welcoming to pets.
Dog digs: Lucy McSwiggan and Yorkshire terrier RubyRu
Build-to-rent schemes are U.S.-style residential blocks, financed by banks and pension funds and now springing up in our cities.
These schemes offer facilities and services such as concierges, gyms, socialising spaces and superfast broadband.
They share a key objective: to create communities and combat loneliness. Already there are some 24,000 build-to-rent homes in London, with about 50,000 more on the way.
Taking the view that pets are an integral part of the family is Lorenzo Carraro, head of residential development lettings at Savills, who says: ‘A dog provides a perfect excuse to start a conversation with your neighbours.’
Build-to-rent operator Quintain Living views pet-friendly policies as a blueprint for the private rental market.
The company will have 3,255 homes at its project at Wembley Park in North-West London, making it the largest scheme of its type in the UK.
Meanwhile, Ryan Prince, founder and chief executive of Uncle, the build-to-rent operator with six schemes in London and Manchester, says: ‘We want to create the best living environments for our residents.
This means beautiful physical spaces, but it’s also focused on mental health. What helps mental health more than the unconditional love of a pet?’
Mr Prince aspires to take the ‘lord’ out of ‘landlord’, which typifies build-to-rent’s more accommodative stance.
As Sarah Tinsley, Quintain Living’s marketing director, says: ‘We’re shaking up the ideas of what a landlord should be.’
In pursuit of its aim to be ‘pet-progressive’, the Quintain Living offer should soon include ‘doggy day care’ and walking services.
And at Ferrum, one of the Wembley Park blocks – with New York-inspired warehouse interiors – Launder-O-Mutt grooming facilities are to open soon. The monthly rent on a two-bedroom unfurnished apartment here is £2,050.
About 15 per cent of Quintain Living apartments have a pet resident, but there is an additional £50 to pay for a dog, or £30 for a cat. Dogs wear a tag and the owners must tidy up after their pets.
Lucy McSwiggan, 33, a primary school head-teacher, has benefited from the Wembley scheme pet concession, having acquired RubyRu, a Yorkshire terrier, at the start of the first lockdown.
She says: ‘My family thought I was mad, given my high-pressure job. They said: ‘You’re on your own and now you want to take on a puppy?’ But she’s been my own lockdown superhero and a lifesaver.
‘RubyRu is known and loved by everyone in our dog-friendly building. She is one of a pack of lockdown puppies.
‘Across the corridor, there’s David with his labradoodle, Fergus.’
Amateur landlords who are doubtful about the trend may change their minds. As one admits: ‘I may have to rethink my pet ban — particularly if it means I can negotiate a higher rent.’