Want More Pet-Friendly Rentals? Here’s How

Allow landlords freedom to set rules and a small rent surcharge, and doors will open for pets.

By Tex Enemark 6 Feb 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Tex Enemark was the deputy minister responsible for the Residential Tenancy Act in the 1970s and was a consultant to the government on the 2004 plain language rewrite of the act. As a public policy consultant he worked for the province’s landlord organization in jointly developing with the Tenants’ Rights Action Coalition proposals for RTA changes in 1999.

Sometimes less regulation is a better solution to a complex problem than more regulation.

Like the troubling issue of accommodating pets in rentals, which has raised its head once again with demands for more “rights” by pet owners and resistance from many tenants and most landlords.

The government is unenthusiastic, but it really does have an obligation to try to address the issue. However, adding more rights to the already overburdened and faulty Residential Tenancy Act is not the way to go. Indeed, it is the act’s role in not allowing the market to work that is at the heart of the problem.

But there is a solution; not a complete solution that will make all pet owners happy, but a workable step forward.

I own five rentals. There is a dog in each and a cat in one. I welcome pet owners as tenants because it gives me a wider pool of prospects from which to choose and, generally speaking, dog owners tend to be more responsible and stay longer; I want long-term tenants.

But I have my own rules. I want to meet the dog and I do not accept pit bulls and other breeds I consider dangerous. Nor do I accept snakes or fish. Pets must be spayed or neutered. I expect to see a veterinarian’s certificate.

I accept that animals will increase wear and tear, but I have replaced all the carpeting with tile, linoleum, wood and laminate, which minimizes problems as part of the tradeoff for having longer-term tenants who are mostly more responsible. But flooring is not the only issue; I once had a pit bull destroy a door after his owner had locked him in a hallway for a day.

But forcing either unwilling rental property owners or other tenants to accept pets is not right.

First, because one-size-fits-all legislation ignores the many kinds of tenancies— big and small apartment buildings, new and old, nice houses, some less nice, houses with suites and so on. Some rentals have on-site managers to deal with pet issues, most do not.

Second, some tenants do not want to share a building with a pet, or at least they do not want to be close to one. They may have allergies, or be afraid of dogs. Unless a landlord plans well, conflicts are inevitable.

Third, there will be damage by pets. Those costs should be borne by pet owners, not by all tenants.

So, how should public policy address this painful problem?

The pet lobby’s assertions that pets do not create damage or increase wear and tear is without credibility. Anyone who has had pets has had the experience where a puppy, untrained and undisciplined, does damage, or knows that most male cats, with age, will tend to have “urine accidents,” and that many dogs and cats are territorial and will mark their space accordingly. The damage easily be done by a pet can be substantial and expensive.

Equally, it’s wrong to claim that those who don’t have pets have no right to object to being in close proximity to a dog or cat. Allergy concerns aside, dogs left alone might well whine or bark all day, disturbing other tenants. Some people are afraid of animals, and whether rational or not, it is a real concern for them. Some don’t want to move into a suite that has been affected adversely through pet ownership. The feelings of non-pet owners are as valid as those who favour animals.

At the same time, it should be recognized that rental property owners should have the right to manage their buildings in a way that makes the maximum number of tenants happy, minimizes damage and benefits all — including future tenants. Landlords should have the chance to try and fairly accommodate the legitimate preferences of all affected parties, and the right to protect their assets and manage their properties.

Animal advocates passionately and persuasively argue that just because they are tenants, they should not have fewer rights to have pets than homeowners. But homeowners not only have the benefits of animal ownership, but must also bear all the costs when damage is done. That is, in many respects, the nub of the matter.

The fact is that the acceptance of animals in rentals inevitably increases repairs and maintenance costs and a half-month security deposit can be laughably small. My experience — with cats in particular — is that the urine damage is not discovered until the tenancy has ended and the security deposit returned.

So, how to deal with the problem? Design market mechanisms that will address the issues.

There are two issues to be faced. First, the obligation of the rental owner to manage his property for the greatest benefit of all. Second, the unfairness of non-pet owners bearing the costs, through higher rents, of the damage done by other people’s pets.

Animal advocates say that higher security deposits to reflect the possible damage would be beyond the means of most tenants. So, some alternative method of dealing with the costs must be found.

First, amend the Residential Tenancy Act to let landlords establish whatever rules they like with respect to pets, without appeal to adjudicators irrespective of how unreasonable or arbitrary the rules may seem. A major problem under the existing act is that a landlord, once he lets a single animal in, is open to appeals by every other tenant to also have an animal. Let the managers manage.

Thus, a landlord could limit the size, breed, age and number of dogs, the number and age of cats, and might only accept spayed and neutered animals. He could accept some kinds of pets and not others. Pets might be limited to the ground floor or to a certain number of suites.

Second, recognize the extra costs that have to be borne as a result of pet damage and spread them out as a monthly rental surcharge. Damage deposits would stay the same, but a landlord could add up to three per cent per pet to the allowable rent. This would allow a landlord to build up a “self-insurance fund” to pay for serious pet damages.

For instance, say the landlord has a 20-suite building, with units rented for $1,000, and takes 10 pets. The three-per-cent surcharge on 10 suites would yield $3,600 per year. Assuming two move-outs a year with significant pet damage, this, with the security deposits, should adequately address the damage and the other costs of hosting pets — things like picking up excrement, dealing with fleas, resolving conflicts between pet owners and non-pet owners and so on.

Such a solution seems fairest to all parties. If it is just a matter of economics, more landlords will be more willing to take pets.

And if rental owners are allowed to set a pet policy that suits their premises without fearing the unpredictable behaviour of the arbitration system, there will be more landlord flexibility.

Some in the pet lobby may not like this proposal, and the government should consult widely on the issue.

But most reasonable pet owners know pets cause damage from time to time. Some may argue that the proposed three-per-cent surcharge is too high. However, if experience shows that pets do not create damages or interfere with the rights of landlords and other tenants, then over time landlords will ask for smaller deposits and smaller rental surcharges. The market is competitive, and a pet owner with references will in many cases be the preferred tenant.

This approach balances rights and interests, and the public and most animal owners should welcome this attempt at a fair solution.

Now the government should act.  [Tyee]

Read more: Housing

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