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In the Dog House

 Megaphone (Canada) 19 May 2019

(Originally published: 02/2010) When Megaphone’s Kevin Hollett moved to the Canadian city of Vancouver, he made sure to do his utmost when it came to locating a new apartment, checking every possible listing to find the right place, in the right part of town, at the right price. Not an impossible task, despite the fact that the city’s residential vacancy rate is 0.3 per cent. However, there was just one problem: he has a dog. The Canadian province of British Columbia makes renting rather difficult for pet owners. Here, Hollett reports on his experience, and calls for a change in the law in B.C. (966 words) - Kevin Hollett


Courtesy of Megaphone

In the Dog House - restrictive rental laws neuter pet owners

When I moved to Vancouver last year, I made sure to do my due diligence when it came to locating a new apartment and checked every possible listing to find the right place, in the right part of town, at the right price. Not an impossible task, despite the fact that the city's residential vacancy rate is 0.3 per cent.


There was just one problem: I have a dog.


The province of British Columbia's Residential Tenancy Act was well known to me before we made the move from Ottawa. I was aware of the difficult conditions for renters with pets and knew that my dog was going to seriously restrict my options in what was an already shallow pool. I also knew there was going to be an added cost, given not only standard supply and demand laws, but that a landlord could charge a pet damage deposit up to 50 per cent of one month's rent.


In spite of the challenges, I managed to land a decently priced apartment. The building manager had verbally approved my dog and the building already had a handful of cats lounging in the windows and dogs running through the hallways. Shortly after moving in, however, I discovered that having a dog suddenly wasn't okay. The building had recently been sold and the new owner, by all accounts, was not agreeable to pets. My dog and I were allowed to stay, but the manager wouldn't put it in writing or say how long this verbal arrangement would last. As it turned out, it wasn't long.


My experience is not a unique one for renters in this city or across the province. Earlier this year, pet-owning tenants residing in a building in the city's West End were served eviction notices after the new owners, Hollyburn Properties, decided it didn't want pets in the building.


The tenants claimed the property managers knew about the pets and had given verbal permission for them to stay. The managers denied this and the matter was eventually settled by the Residential Tenancy Branch, which determined that the tenants had not breached a material part of their tenancy agreement. The tenants get to stay and keep their pets, but not without going through a drawn-out and emotionally draining dispute.


Tenant advocates used the eviction notices as further evidence that B.C.'s rental legislation needs to be changed. After the story broke, Spencer Herbert, the NDP MLA for Vancouver Burrard, stated that evictions for pet owners highlighted Premier Gordon Campbell's continued failure to provide tenants with badly needed protection.


"Tenants need protection but Campbell refuses to take action," Herbert is quoted as saying on the NDP's website.


It wasn't always so difficult for tenants with pets in this province. Between 2003 and 2005, vacancy rates in Vancouver fluctuated between 1.5 and 2 per cent, three to four times greater than the current market. In 2004, the Liberal government amended the Residential Tenancy Act, which allowed landlords to reject pet-owners outright or charge an extra damage deposit.


"Before landlords were at the mercy of tenants; it's now very clear that they can choose," said Marg Gordon, CEO of the B.C. Apartment Owner's Management Association, in an interview with The Vancouver Sun last year.


It appears that many landlords are opting not to allow pets at all. The BC SPCA estimates that while more than 50 per cent of B.C. residents have pets, only 5 per cent of rental suites allow dogs and only 9 per cent allow cats-a scarce amount given the already tight rental market.


All of this is a big change from my former province of residence. "We're a little behind Ontario," said Tom Durning of the Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre (TRAC). "I would like to see some of Ontario's laws in B.C., like the right to first refusal."


He was referring to the practice of tenants being evicted for either minor or wholesale renovations so that landlords can further justify replacing tenants and raising rents without restrictions. However, he wouldn't go so far as to endorse Ontario's relatively lax pet laws.


"It's about respecting the landlord's and the tenant's rights," Durning said.


For Durning, it's not a black and white issue. Landlords and neighbours also need protection from irresponsible pet owners. He referred to TRAC's website, which states that the organization "represents the interests of all tenants and must balance the interests of tenants who want pets with tenants who do not want to live around pets either for personal or health reasons."


TRAC believes that disputes-like the one at the Emerald Terrace and my own-can be avoided simply by adding a clause to the RTA that voids the arbitrary or unreasonable prohibition of pets in residential properties.


TRAC further advocates that tenants should be permitted to have one or more pets, that all tenants have the right to live in quiet enjoyment of their premises, free from intrusive behaviour, and that there should be no adverse monetary consequences for any tenant in order to be allowed to have a pet in their home. This includes no additional rent or security deposit money or imposed insurance.


The fact is, tenants with pets don't always equal bad news for landlords. The BC SPCA points out that pet owners typically pay between 20 and 30 per cent more for rental units, tend to stay longer (an average of 46 months, compared to 18 months for tenants without pets), and add security both in the unit of residence, and around the complex during late-night or early-morning walks.


As for me and my dog? Well, everything worked out alright in the end. The building manager found us a place in another (slightly more expensive) building just down the street. It's one that accepts pets. And their owners.

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