Are you considering moving into a flat with a pet?

If so, make sure you have understood your obligations under the lease.

You may have read in the news earlier this year about the High Court decision in the case of Victory Place Management Company Ltd v Kuehn & Anor [2018] EWHC 132 (Ch) which concerned the keeping a dog in a flat.  Pet issues often arise in practice when it comes to leasehold property. This case highlights the current approach adopted in circumstances where a lease contains an obligation preventing a tenant from keeping a pet in a flat without the written consent of the management company.

Background & County Court Decision

Mr & Mrs Kuehn purchased a flat on a long lease at the Victory Place Estate in Limehouse (a residential gated development). Victory Place Management Company managed the estate and the lease contained a covenant not to keep pets in the flat without the written consent of the management company.  The management company’s members were the leaseholders of Victory Place who elected its board of directors.

When faced with a request by a lessee for consent, the management company operated a strict “no pets” policy albeit with an acknowledgment that there would be certain exceptions to this rule, for example, where a leaseholder needed a guide dog. The members of the management company did not want dogs on the estate, based on their reasonable concerns about them barking, chewing or defecating in public areas.

The management company obtained an order for an injunction requiring the removal of “Vinnie”, the dog in question. The Kuehns claimed that the dog provided therapeutic benefits, although no medical evidence was provided to support their claim.  The Court at first instance found that their application to keep Vinnie in the flat was based on nothing more than love of their dog.

Appeal

Mr and Mrs Kuehn challenged the decision in the High Court on the basis that the management company had not complied with its implied obligation to deal reasonably with the Kuehn’s request and therefore the strict policy meant that their application had been ‘illegitimately predetermined’. They argued that the Judge had erred in his decision.

Counsel acting on behalf of the management company submitted that the Judge’s conclusion was entirely correct and argued that historical adoption of a policy, does not in itself equate to an unreasonable decision-making process or lead to an unreasonable decision. The lease covenant only required the management company to operate a reasonable process in response to any request to keep a pet. The Court found that the “no pets” policy was not unreasonable or irrational, and emphasised that it should be viewed in the context of the occupiers of the block having previously endorsed the policy. The Kuehn’s appeal was dismissed.

Comment

Long leases often contain covenants, the interpretation of which are open to the discretion of the management company. This case sets an important precedent for management companies going forward when interpreting tenant’s covenants in long leases. Prospective tenants should ensure that they have fully read and understood the obligations contained within the lease and if in any doubt, check whether consent will be forthcoming prior to purchasing the property.

This guide is for general information and interest only and should not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice. If you require any further information about the issues raised in this article please contact the author or call 0207 404 0606 and ask to speak to your usual Goodman Derrick contact.