As Nova Scotia continues to grapple with a lack of available housing, debates are circulating around the issue of landlords refusing to allow pets into apartment units.
Jefferson Hutt, a Halifax man who recently found a place to stay after spending the last six months in his car, said his dog Trip was a loyal companion for him during an increasingly challenging period.
“Trip’s been a saviour,” he said.
Hutt said being a pet owner and operating on a limited budget made the process of finding somewhere to stay quite difficult. He added that his dog recently broke his leg after being struck by a vehicle, and the medical costs associated with the recovery costed him an “unbelievable” amount of money.
“I can’t let go of him right now. I couldn’t believe going indoors without him, I’d rather stay outside than lose my dog. … I’d freeze my butt off out there like I have been.”
Hutt, who’s now living in the Peggy’s Cove area of Halifax, said it “isn’t right” that some landlords forbid tenants with pets into their units, therefore creating another barrier for individuals already struggling to access affordable housing.
Although he’s grateful to have found a place to live thanks to the generosity of some, not all pet owners are experiencing the same fortune.
Hugh Chisholm, president of the Tuxedo Party of Canada Cat Welfare Society, a non-profit organization that advocates for animal rights, said landlords are prohibiting animals from their units as “a way around the rental cap” — suggesting they can kick the pet owner out if they refuse to get rid of their pet, and then raise the price for the next tenant.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of surrenders of pets at our facilities … because ‘no pet clauses’ seem to be on the increase in the area and people are faced with the horrible decision to give up their pet or give up their home. And in a housing crisis, if you give up your home, you may end up living on the street,” he said.
“If they can force people to move out then they can raise the rent for the next person to move in.”
Chisholm said he foresees conditions worsening if a bill isn’t introduced to remove barriers for pet owners looking for a place to live.
“We have landlords telling people ‘You have to get rid of a family member or get out’,” he said, adding that one of his organizations that house animals is already at maximum capacity due to a skyrocketing number of pet surrenders.
“There’s an example of a lady, a senior citizen who had a cat for 10 years, and suddenly one day she got a note from her landlord saying that you’re not allowed to have your pet anymore. So, she had to surrender this companion that she had,” he said.
“You can’t go looking for another place to live if you’ve lived there for decades… I think it’s just landlords taking advantage of a loophole.”
On Friday, Nova Scotia NDP leader Claudia Chender said pets are one of several factors leading to tenant evictions.
“A building gets purchased where purchasers would like to raise the rent, they can’t, and so if that building has a number of pets, that’s a way to do it, to say ‘In a prescribed amount of time, this will no longer be a pet-friendly building’,” she said.
“You’re forcing people to choose between their pets and housing … people consider pets a part of their family. But at the centre of the issue is whether people should have security of tenure.”
Chender said the intention of the bill would be to entirely prevent landlords from barring pets from a unit, adding that the practice is increasingly occurring mid-lease and putting tenants in an undesirable situation.
But not everyone agrees with that approach.
Kevin Russell, executive director of the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia (IPOANS), described the legislation, also known as Bill 350, as one of the “stupidest ideas the NDP has come up with.”
“The bill does not take into consideration the fact that there are other renters out there who want to live in no-pet buildings … it’s a large swath of tenants,” he said.
“There’s a variety of reasons for that, it could be they’re fearful of animals, their health, it’s just a quieter environment. It doesn’t take into consideration those renters.”
Russell said the frustrations from tenants who share the same sentiment aren’t directed toward pets in particular, but rather “irresponsible pet owners.”
“Unfortunately, there’s a large number of them (pet owners) that cause problems and it ruins the whole living environment for the rest of the building … there are health and safety reasons that people want to live in a no-pet building, and we shouldn’t discriminate against them,” he said.
Russell stressed the need to maintain balance in the rental market, as he said there should continue to be a separation of buildings that allow pets and don’t allow pets — based off the preference of the building owner and tenants.
“That’s the way the market should be,” he said.