Why Vancouver’s widespread ‘no-pets’ clause presents explicit challenges for tenants with disabilities

Megan Milton wanted to couch surf with a friend for a month, but one month turned into four because no one would rent to an unemployed woman with a dog.

In February 2020, Milton had a well-paying office job renting an apartment in Vancouver. Then, within a week, she lost her job and received an eviction notice. After the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Milton found it increasingly difficult to find a new job or a dog-friendly apartment within her budget.

Milton, who is visually impaired, faced a tough decision: give up on her emotionally supportive dog or move into her friend’s dining room until her financial situation improves. She decided to do couch surfing.

“By the technical definition, I was homeless. And that was mainly because I couldn’t find an apartment with the dog,” said Milton.

Milton is just one of many Vancouver residents with a disability who have difficulty finding accommodation, especially if they have a pet. Since her Pug is not a certified service dog, Milton cannot benefit from the exemptions set out in BC’s Residential Tenancy Act for disabled people with service animals.

For Milton, giving up her pug, who is called dog, was never an option. She says he helps her get out of the house when he has to go for a walk and kept her company through the social isolation of the pandemic. She describes him as her “best friend”.

“He’s there for all the fights when my Doordash order is 45 minutes late or is literally homeless. It’s there to be a shoulder to cry on, ”she said.

Milton has since found a job and lives in a pet-friendly flat share – but the possibility of another eviction hangs over her head. She says her landlord will likely put the house up for sale in the spring and she’ll have to look for an apartment again. It would be her third innocent eviction in as many years.

No pet clauses

Finding a pet-free rental home has long been a challenge for renters in Vancouver.

According to the BC SPCA, 25 percent of the dogs and cats given them are given away because their owners cannot find pet-friendly accommodation. That’s 1,150 pets that end up in a shelter every year.

In a 2018 report, advocacy group Pets OK BC stated that while more pet-friendly homes are being built, much of this housing stock remains inaccessible to middle-class tenants.

Milton says giving up Dog, who kept her company and helped her out of the house during social isolation, was never an option for her despite the difficulties she faced in finding accommodation for the two of them. (Veronika Khvorostuchina)

For people with disabilities, the legal gray area between the provincial housing tenancy law and the human rights code is particularly difficult when it comes to renters who have pets that are not certified as service animals, according to attorney Robert Patterson.

“The Housing Act allows a landlord to restrict pets,” said Patterson, legal counsel at the Tenant Resource and Advisory Center.

But, he added, the BC Human Rights Code states that landlords are also required to accommodate disabled tenants who rely on their pet for their disability – whether or not the pet is certified.

Patterson says the two laws don’t provide a clear answer to situations where a renter is advised by a doctor to get an animal for emotional support, but the landlord doesn’t allow pets.

“I think there is a good argument that a landlord should respect the tenant’s human rights and allow them to have a pet,” he said.

Human rights perspective

BC Human Rights Clinic director Laura Track says that in some cases, pet bans can constitute a potential violation of the rights of people with disabilities to equal housing.

Track says extending certification to different animals isn’t the answer.

“I don’t think certification helps,” she said. “And I think it’s even more confusing because landlords and other service providers, even shops and restaurants, think they just have to house a certified animal. And that’s just not true.”

According to Track, the solution is for landlords to work individually with disabled tenants to ensure that their right to equal housing is respected. She says shifts and landlords often don’t understand their duty to accommodate a disabled tenant.

“And that’s why they think, well, we have a policy that says there are no pets and no exceptions. And they don’t understand that they have to make exceptions, sometimes to accommodate people with disabilities, ”said.

In October 2020, Vancouver City Council filed a motion to ban pet prohibition clauses in rental housing contracts. Now the state has to decide whether the housing rental law will be changed accordingly.

However, Milton is not optimistic that a change in the law would protect renters with pets.

“There is an inherent power imbalance between tenants and landlords and we are never protected,” she said.

8:12Dog owners would like more landlords to thwart their plans when renting out

Laura Track and Robert Patterson speak to Stephen Quinn about why they think landlords should be more accommodating to dog owners. 8:12

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