Vancouver’s City Council is considering a motion calling for a province-wide prohibition on landlords who refuse to accept tenants with pets.
Councillors argue that pets are a way for residents to soothe the emotional fallout from the pandemic and resulting social isolation.
The motion submitted to Council for consideration this week calls upon the mayor to request provincial legislation that would restrict a landlord’s right to reject rental applicants who have pets. Barring that, City Council wants to explore what options it has to prohibit Vancouver landlords from rejecting pets.
Councillors reference common pet restrictions such as limits on breed, size, and number of pets, which suggests that these policies also may be impacted by subsequent legislation.
The move was made at the request of the Renters’ Advisory Committee. That committee, which meets six times per year, provides input to City Council, conducts outreach, and at times takes positions on policy initiatives.
The lack of pet-friendly rental properties in Vancouver and across the country has been a concern for animal shelters that report the majority of surrendered or abandoned pets belong to tenants who cannot otherwise obtain housing.
In the motion, Vancouver Councillors cite Ontario’s prohibition on pet restrictions in leases and call on British Columbia to adopt the same model. Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act states, “A provision in a tenancy agreement prohibiting the presence of animals in or about the residential complex is void.” An exception is made for condo rentals where the condominium corporation has banned pets. In Ontario, a tenant cannot be evicted for a pet until the harm has occurred — the animal makes too much noise, damages the unit, causes allergic reactions, or is inherently dangerous. The landlord then must seek an order from the Landlord and Tenant Board, which can take several months.
Vancouver lawmakers praise the Ontario system for benefitting renters and pets, but no mention is made of the impact the law has on landlords, who are hampered in their ability to screen individual applicants to avoid those who are irresponsible pet owners or to demand tenants seek permission before obtaining new pets.
Vancouver Councillors call pet restrictions discriminatory, although it appears the protections in the Human Rights Code are limited to tenants with disabilities in need of emotional support or service animals, not pet owners.
The motion does not address the concerns that landlords have about pets in general, like increased risk of property damage or more complaints concerning noise, aggressive animals, waste removal, and allergies.
However, there is evidence that allowing pets is a smart business move for landlords. Those who accept pets find that the policy attracts more qualified applicants, creates a greater sense of community, and generates higher tenant retention. These factors may be enough for some landlords to overcome speculation over potential risks, which may be reduced through pet rules in the tenancy agreement.
While keeping a pet during the pandemic may ease anxiety and feelings of isolation, basing the rule change on the temporary issues surrounding the pandemic could have a negative impact on both landlords and tenants. Pet ownership is a significant responsibility and not every tenant is up to the task. Tenants need to consider what will happen in the coming months when their lives return to normal and, in many cases, pets will be left alone for hours at a time.
Landlords need to be free to consider whether an individual pet owner is responsible and capable of caring for the animal’s needs in the context of the rental unit. Taking away a landlord’s discretion to screen tenants with pets could lead to income loss and more tenant disputes.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.