Pets OK BC has launched a formal petition ahead of the upcoming BC election, hoping to get the next government to end explicit pet restrictions in housing across the province.
The grassroots group of activists want to stop people being outright barred from rentals, stratas and mobile homes simply because they have companion animals.
Eliot Galan, co-organizer of the movement, told Daily Hive “no pets” policies are often based on anecdotal evidence, and landlords don’t look at the facts.
“So many property owners… are causing immeasurable harm by having these ‘no pets’ policies, especially when they don’t even make sense,” said Galan.
“A lot of people are suffering because of this, families are having to give up their family pets, and of course, it’s hard on the animals too.”
Galan was inspired to launch Pets OK BC with fellow activists a few years ago after he struggled to find housing that would accept his dog Lucy, and ended up homeless.
He says there is a real urgency to the issue, with many pet owners left living in their cars or in shelters, and people trying to flee abusive relationships finding it hard to do so with a pet.
It is estimated that a quarter of Vancouverites are dog owners, responsible for about 145,000 dogs, and the City is currently developing plans for more dog parks.
But Galan estimates that between 75% and 97% of rentals listed in Vancouver are off limits if you have a dog or cat, depending on your price range.
“Of course that ratio goes up the less you can afford, renting with a pet comes with a premium,” he said, adding that higher rents impact your ability to pay pet bills.
“When you’re facing those kinds of odds and levels of vacancy we have in Vancouver… of course people are going to find themselves homeless or really struggling to find something.”
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.
With this amendment, Galan says Pets OK BC is going for “a middle ground” and removing “no pets” policies will not take away landlords’ rights or force animals into their suites.
Instead, it would mean landlords could make the decision on an individual basis, after meeting the applicants and assessing their situation, he says.
“Rather than just saying ‘No’ to thousands of people who are otherwise perfectly good tenants, landlords need to look at a wider range of criteria,” said Galan.
“Just having a companion animal does not make you more likely to damage your property or cause other issues for tenants, like noise complaints.”
David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord BC, disagrees.
“We’re not insensitive to this whole issue, but the bottom line is it’s a real challenge to have dogs and cats in a rental unit,” he told Daily Hive on the phone.
“The fact of the matter is that irrespective of how people may think they’re responsible pet owners, invariably we find there’s a lot of damage done to the unit.”
Hutniak says landlords also have a responsibility under the Residential Tenancy Act to ensure the quiet enjoyment of the home for other tenants.
“That means the right to a safe, secure comfortable place to live,” said Hutniak. “Pets are invariably a lightning rod for tenant disputes, and it gets to be a real challenge.”
Hutniak also raises the issue of allergies, arguing that while neighbouring tenants might not object to the pet, when they leave, the pool of potential new tenants would be limited.
New tenants would have to be allergy free, and not object to the pet living nearby–and that could lose the landlord business, he says.
Hutniak says ultimately, it’s a business decision on the part of the owner. If they allow pets, they will probably charge a much higher rent to compensate.
“The notion of making it mandatory is really quite unfair,” he said. “The owner of the property should have some rights too–if they want to provide property that excludes pets it should be their decision.”
Hutniak acknowledges that this is a highly emotional issue, and says people are always conflicted on it, but he doesn’t see any flexibility on the matter.
“It would be really unfortunate of the government to pass this amendment,” he said. “In a perfect world everyones a responsible dog owner, but it’s not the reality. It’s a huge issue and people just choose to ignore it.”
Anticipating Hutniak’s stance, Galan told Daily Hive he understands the issue with allergies.
“We’re incredibly considerate of people’s need in their home for quiet enjoyment,” said Galan. “There are of course exceptions to not having a ‘no pets’ policy.”
“When you share the ventilation with another tenant… by no means should someone be able to bring a pet or other allergen into your home that would cause you distress or any kind of allergic reaction.”
The amendments proposed by Pets OK BC come 27 years ago after Ontario passed a law removing no pets policy from its version of the Residential Tenancy Agreement.
But the BC version goes further, by applying the same rule to strata corporations.
“We’re not trying to be too extreme with this, we’re just trying to learn from what Ontario’s done and improve upon it,” said Galan.
“They make their own rules and are answerable to no one but themselves, keeping out a lot of potentially fantastic residents based on personal bias.”
The amendment to the Strata Property Act would bar “no pets” policies and weight restrictions, leaving decision making on the issue up to the individual owner of the condo.
“People are buying their own home and then they’re not even allowed to have a dog that they’ve grown up with or rescued and been with for seven years.”
So far, the Pets OK BC petition has been signed by 2,000 people around the province, but Galan is hoping to get 10,000 signatures before the BC election on May 9.
Back in 2014, they garnered 14,000 signatures in an online petition – but the BC legislature does not accept online petitions and refused to consider their proposed amendment.
Galan says it’s crucial that the next BC government takes the issue of “no pets” policies and the shortage of pet friendly housing seriously.
“It’s really important and vital in fact that the provincial government does not legitimize this discrimination. We need them to look at the facts… and listen to their voters.”
“We think it’s utterly wrong that someone doesn’t have the right to choose within their own home what to call a family. Companion animals are family.”
To sign the petition in Vancouver, you can head to one of the following locations:
And if you can’t afford the time to collect signatures, you can also donate to the Animal Protection Party of Canada, which is helping cover the campaign costs.