The Heartache of Renting with a Furry Family Member
by Antonia Mah, TAPS Tenant Legal Advocate
If you rent in Victoria, you know the only thing harder than finding an affordable place to live is finding somewhere that allows pets. Federal human rights laws do not specifically protect the owning of pets in Canada, but provinces can stipulate their own rules around pets. For example, in Ontario, provincial tenancy legislation prevents a landlord from including a no-pet clause in a tenancy agreement. Landlords in BC, on the other hand, can restrict the size, type and number of pets in rental suites. This affords BC landlords an incredible amount of power to limit or prohibit pets.
So, what about a person with disabilities who needs to rent with an animal? Landlords have a duty to accommodate the disabilities of a tenant up to undo hardship, and the BC Human Rights Code specifies that a tenant is not to be discriminated against regarding a term, condition, or the renting of a residential space. However, the BC Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) has no jurisdiction to make decisions on human rights matters and RTB hearings generally take place much faster than proceedings at the Human Rights Tribunal (HRT). This means that if you are living in a tenancy that does not permit pets, a landlord may be able to evict you at an RTB hearing for an animal you rely on because of a disability, even if the Human Rights Tribunal later finds this to be discriminatory.
The exception is if someone has a guide animal that has been certified under the BC Guide Dog and Service Dog Act (GDSDA.) The BC Residential Tenancy Act protects a tenant’s ability to keep a guide or service dog free from discrimination, including retired dogs. Still, certifying a guide or service dog is not accessible for everyone. The testing is labour-intensive and may involve several hundred dollars in fees, not to mention the cost of private training resources if you do not train your dog yourself. Also, many people rely on animals that are not captured within the GDSDA, such as emotional support animals. Emotional support animals may be an animal that a health professional prescribes for your care, but they are not considered guide or service animals unless they meet the certification requirements of the GDSDA. Although someone may be able to file a human rights complaint if they are discriminated against for renting with an emotional support animal, BC tenancy laws currently do not recognize a tenant’s right to keep these kinds of animals. Just listen to the hurdles one renter faced when looking for a home in Victoria with their emotional support dog:
“My dog is more than just my best friend. He is an emotional support animal who calms my anxiety. It would have been unthinkable not to have him with me. It was so distressing to be turned down by the few places I could afford when I came to Victoria. I was so distraught I almost lived out of my car, then on a friend's boat, for 5 months, then took a very unbecoming room in a home with a manic single dad who allowed my well-trained, mature dog, if I would babysit their new puppy while finding a job and working full time. Living without Sherman was not an option – it is like living without vital medication. I even had a doctor’s note staging my anxiety and how it was necessary for me to manage life with my support animal, but that meant nothing to the many places I applied. The stress was unbearable, to the point where I needed to leave my best friend in my car on cold winter days in the damp cold while I was working until I finally found a place to rent in a subsidized/affordable housing accommodation.
I have lived in many places that allowed my dog, and most didn't even require an extra down payment because I had such great references. Never in my life was renting so discouraging as it was here in Victoria.”
While some may say a landlord’s ability to limit animals helps them maintain a rental suite in a reasonable state of repair, we argue that remedies already exist through the RTB for a landlord to resolve damage caused by a tenant or their pet. No one should face housing insecurity because they care for, or rely on, animals. We invite you to call on the province to amend tenancy legislation to ensure pet and emotional support animal owners are protected in the rental market.