Can landlords enforce a 'no pets' policy in Hamilton?

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Any renter who owns a pet in Hamilton has felt the added stress of finding a place that’s not only geographically desirable and affordable but also allows pets.

A quick search on Kijiji.ca (the most popular rental-seeking platform for Hamiltonians) provides around 800 results in the area. However, when you add a filter for rentals that allow pets, the total number of results drops to around 340.

Reflecting the current housing market, rental prices in Hamilton have never been higher ($1,500 on average) and the market is extremely competitive. Finding a place to live is hard enough and pet owners find themselves at a significant disadvantage.

What many people don’t know is that the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act does not permit landlords to include "no pet" clauses in rental agreements. According to Animal Justice, the leading animal rights legal organization in Canada, “the only exception is if the property is a condominium and the condominium corporation's declaration prohibits pets.”

Even still, pet owners can fight pet prohibitions in condo buildings, too.

As of Oct 1, 2020, the Condominium Authority Tribunal can now hear cases about disputed provisions in condo bylaws relating to pets and other animals. Until this change, owners and condo corporations involved in companion disputes had to go through costly private mediation, arbitration, or the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to reach a settlement.

“Companion animal restrictions in condos are bad for everyone involved and are often highly arbitrary and poorly-enforced,” said Animal Justice. “Pet bans can rip families apart, reduce adoption rates at shelters, and make housing more difficult to find in an already-challenging housing market.”

So how do landlords get away with a “no pets” policy in their buildings? They can simply not rent to you.

“The protections provided to pet guardians apply only to tenants,” says Animal Justice. “Until a person actually enters into a rental agreement, there is no tenancy; the person and their pets are not protected.”

What if you omit the fact that you own a pet?

“A landlord cannot evict a tenant simply because they were unaware of a pet, or because the pet was adopted after the tenant moved in,” added Animal Justice. “A tenant can only be evicted if a pet is making too much noise, damaging the unit, causing an allergic reaction to others, or is considered to be inherently dangerous.”

Even then, a landlord can’t just kick someone out. They must go through the process of applying to the Landlord and Tenant Board for an order terminating the tenancy.

Asking for a “damage deposit” is illegal in Ontario, as well. While a landlord is allowed to ask for a last month's rent deposit, as well as a key or pass card deposit, they cannot ask for a damage deposit.

“Notably, the rent deposit must be applied to a tenant's last month's rent, and the key deposit must be given back to the tenant upon the return of keys,” said Animal Justice. “It is illegal for the landlord to use these deposits for anything else, such as to pay for damage caused to the unit by people or pets.”

Speaking from experience, while a landlord may not directly evict you for having a pet, they could make your life difficult with bullying and intimidation tactics in an effort to make you uncomfortable. Sure, tenants have legal protections, but there is a degree of cost and anxiety that come with going head-to-head with a landlord.

Still, it’s important to know your rights as a pet owner.

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