It can be hard to find a place to live in British Columbia.
B.C. leads the country as the province with the highest rate of unaffordable homes, mainly due to the large number of people paying high rents, according to Statistics Canada.
But if you have a dog or cat, or more than one pet, the job of finding an affordable place to live becomes even more difficult, especially in the Lower Mainland.
It tends to be the top reason why people surrender their animals to British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelters across the province, according to Meghann Cant, BC SPCA manager of companion animal welfare science and policy.
“The trend shows that, at least over the last decade, the number one reason for surrender of adult animals to our shelters is lack of pet-friendly housing,” she said.
Landlords are able to ban pets or place restrictions on the size, number and kinds of pets renters can have under the Residential Tenancy Act, Cant noted.
“Pet restrictions are pretty widespread – that’s why people have a hard time (finding pet-friendly housing).”
Pet-friendly housing generally tends to be more expensive, as people often have to pay a pet deposit, so affordability is an issue, too, she added.
The Surrey Animal Resource Centre doesn’t collect data on the numbers of people surrendering animals due to housing, according to city staff, but BC SPCA often deals with pet guardians reaching out to them for help in either re-homing their pet or, sadly, having to surrender them.
The BC SPCA has some resources on its website to help people with pets find homes, such as a pet resumé showing their training, pet references, or setting up a meet-and-greet with a potential landlord and their pet(s), Cant said, noting the BC SPCA has been asking for a change in the legislation for several years, “but the government has indicated they’re not interested in removing that clause about pets in the Residential Tenancy Act.”
Moving forward, she said, maybe it’s time for a different approach.
“I think it’s time for us to actually start to collaborate with landlords and to get together, and really understand what are the barriers and challenges to providing pet-friendly housing, because we know there’s a risk for landlords to take on pets because of the damage they can perhaps cause,” Cant said, and added how important pets can be to people’s mental health as well.
“If we can get together and we can understand the situation better, I think it’s time for us to come up with some creative solutions together.”
South Surrey resident and landlord Crystal Camire agreed.
Guardian to two cats herself, she and her husband have been landlords to more than one tenant with pets, and she feels it depends on the tenant.
One of their tenants moved into a newly renovated basement suite with one cat, as they had agreed to one.
The tenant snuck in a second cat, but the smell from uncleaned litter boxes and sometimes, the smell of cat urine, would get so bad they could smell it upstairs.
“It got so bad, we could smell it coming through our vents,” she said.
The tenant stayed less than a year and afterward, they had to repaint all the walls and replace all the carpet and underlay, even after having the carpets professionally cleaned.
The next time they advertised for a tenant, they put a strict ‘no pets’ disclaimer in their ads, Camire said, “but it depends on the person.”
The tenant they chose does have one small dog, and they allowed it because they knew the dog was crate-trained, which means fewer messes, and the tenant is also home full time, so they knew the pet would be properly cared for.
Having been both a renter with pets and a homeowner, Camire knows it can be a tough situation for both sides.
“I think it depends on you being able to prove to people that you can properly take care of your pet(s),” she said.
“I do think more landlords need to be flexible, because you just never know.”