Some 1,704 pets were surrendered to the BC SPCA across British Columbia in 2017, citing housing-related issues as the reason.
Amy Morris, BC SPCA manager of public policy and outreach, told Daily Hive that figure does not include animals that were simply abandoned on the streets.
She said the number of animals being surrendered apparently due to housing issues rose between 2013 and 2016, but has stayed “stable” since then.
“I think it’s crucial to have more opportunities for people with pets to find affordable housing and there’s lots of ways to do that,” she said.
Morris suggested updating the Strata Property Act, so it was up to landlords and owners to decide whether to accept pets, rather than strata.
She also noted that landlords are responsible for safekeeping any personal property left behind by a former tenant – including pets – for 30 days before surrendering it.
Morris suggested putting abandoned pets in a different category and changing the law so a pet’s owner is the one that is legally responsible for them.
“As things stand right now, landlords can be named in lawsuits relating to pets of their tenants,” she said.
Overall, she said, these changes could provide a lot more pet friendly housing, and be a “win for everyone, for owners of properties, for renters, and for government.”
This is also the message of Pets OK BC, a group of advocates who have gathered 10,000 signatures in support for ending explicit pet restrictions in housing across BC.
The group met with representatives from the Ministry of Housing, Ministry of Mental Health, and Ministry of Social Development in November.
But in a release, they say they have not seen any movement on the issue from Housing Minister Selina Robinson and provincial government since.
Eliot Galan, co-founder and organizer of Pets OK BC, said Robinson had denied their repeated attempts to meet with her directly, citing “time restrictions.”
“The Housing Minister apparently expects us to roll over and play dead, because it might upset the wealthy landlord lobby,” said Galan.
“The government must act now, in the interest of families forced to give up their pets to find housing, and countless others forced into homelessness or precarious situations to keep their families together.”
In a statement to Daily Hive, Robinson said she appreciated Pets OK BC taking the time to brief her staff on the issues renters with pets are facing.
“Across British Columbia far too many people are struggling to find safe, affordable, and functional housing,” said Robinson.
“The challenge can be even greater for people with children, with pets, or with accessibility needs, as well as those with a low income.”
But Robinson said the need for more rental supply was “at the heart of the issue” and it was about expanding the options and increasing the vacancy rate.
“When the vacancy rate is low, landlords are able to be more selective with tenants, making it more difficult for tenants with children, with pets, or with accessibility needs, as well as those with a low income,” said Robinson.
“Increasing the housing supply means there will be more units available and more landlords who will accept renters with pets, rather than leaving their units vacant.”
Robinson said the province planned to build 114,000 new affordable homes over the next 10 years, and had already spent $208 million on 1,700 new affordable rental units.
The amendment Galan’s group is proposing to the Residential Tenancy Agreement would stop landlords being able to write a ban or restrictions on pet ownership into the lease.
This amendment, Galan said, would mean landlords could make the decision on an individual basis, after meeting the applicants and assessing their situation, he says.
Meanwhile, the amendment to the Strata Property Act would bar “no pets” policies and weight restrictions, leaving decisions on the issue up to the individual owner of the condo.
The provision of “Quiet Enjoyment,” which gives residents the right to peace, quiet and privacy in their homes, would not be changed, says Galan.
According to Pets OK BC, this means that so long as pet owners did not disturb another resident’s “Quiet Enjoyment,” they would have the right to own a pet.
However, if a pet owner violated that “Quiet Enjoyment,” due to excessive noise, aggressive behaviour, or by aggravating allergies, they would risk eviction.
David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord BC, has opposed the Pets OK BC campaign and previously dismissed the idea of a housing crisis among pet owners as “hyperbole.”
Hutniak told Daily Hive the new BC SPCA data does not change his organization’s position on the issue of pets.
“We believe that the rental housing provider should have the right to determine whether or not their building/units are pet-friendly,” said Hutniak.
“The bigger issue remains the need for significant growth in the supply of new, secure, purpose-built rental housing.”
Hutniak said most of the new purpose-built rental housing is pet-friendly, and he believes that is a positive development “so renters have more options.”
“At the end of the day we want to see as much new rental housing supply created for BC families as is possible,” he said.
“That is where LandlordBC is focusing its time and energy. We need more government support in this regard.”
Hutniak also rejected the idea that landlords would be able to easily evict irresponsible pet owners or have their pets removed.
“Landlords are not in the business of evicting people, they are in the business of housing people,” he said. “No landlord wants to go through the experience of having to evict a tenant.”
It is “naïve” to suggest eviction would be a straightforward process with a completely cooperative tenant, said Hutniak.
“That is not the real world and the landlord’s recourse in these sort of situations through the bureaucracy is a frustrating, time-consuming, and typically expensive process,” he said.
“It’s all about the language of the legislation and how it is written. It can be written to accommodate everyone’s needs,” she said.
To anyone wondering why having a pet is so crucial, Morris said they offer significant mental health benefits, which is especially important in cities.
“Life can be very stressful in that environment. It helps people get outside, interact with another being,” she said.
“I would say it has a positive cascading effect on people’s interactions with each other.”
Jordan Reichert, with Pets OK BC, says the group will continue to push the government to change their stance on pet-friendly housing.
“Animals and their families continue to suffer and be separated because of this discriminatory policy, which only exacerbates the housing pressures across the region,” he said.
“2018 needs to be the year the government makes a compassionate policy change in the interests of families across BC.”