Non-profit B.C., landlord launches pet-friendly policy

A non-profit housing provider on Vancouver Island isn't waiting for legislation to open its doors to pets in many of its 2,000 units.

'It's one of those things that's good for families,' says executive director of Pacific Housing

The advocacy group Pets OK BC says pets are surrendered to shelters in B.C. nearly five times a day partly because of widespread rental policies banning them. (Deborah Wilson/CBC)

Housing pressures forced 1,700 pet owners to surrender their animals to the BC SPCA in the past year, according to an advocacy group that's trying to persuade the provincial government to ban pervasive no-pet rental policies.

Jordan Reichert, the Vancouver Island representative for Pets OK BC, said the group has been turned down for a meeting with B.C.'s housing minister on the issue. But a non-profit housing provider in Victoria isn't waiting for legislation to launch a new pet-friendly policy.

The policy will eventually cover most of Pacifica Housing's 2,000 units.

Its executive director, Dean Fortin, told CBC On the Island's Khaili Akhtar that his experience doesn't support the widespread assumption that pets cause a lot of damage in rental housing.

"We joke (about it), because, you know, children are harder on housing and yet we still put them in," he said.

Fortin said Pacifica's revised pet policy will begin rolling out in the next couple of weeks. Initially, tenants will be allowed to have pets in five to 10 of the 36 buildings owned and operated by the provider of supported and below-market units.

Pacifica will monitor the impact of the new pet policy on the housing units and survey the neighbours' reactions, Fortin said, "just so we can improve the policy as we go along." 

Dean Fortin says Pacifica Housing plans to eventually allow pets in all but a couple of the 36 buildings it currently operates. (Pacifica Housing Advisory Association)

The new policy will require spaying and neutering of pets. Initially only indoor cats will be allowed in the buildings, and owners must obtain any identification or license required by the municipality.

To accommodate people who are allergic or uncomfortable around pets, Pacifica will maintain a couple of buildings or floors in buildings where pets will not be allowed. 

"Ultimately it's about taking care of people in so many ways," Fortin said. 

"It's one of those things that's good for families, it's good for kids, it's good for individuals," he said. "How can we manage it rather than just prohibit it?"

Is legislation necessary?

Reichert said Pets OK BC appreciates Pacifica's efforts to create pet-friendly housing.

"I think they're definitely going in the right direction," Reichert said, but he doesn't believe the solution to pet owners' housing problems can be solved without legislative change similar to Ontario's ban on no-pet rental clauses.

Fortin disagrees.

"Why do we always have to bring in legislation and mandate it?" he said, adding that Pacifica will share its evaluation on the impact of the new pet policy with the rental industry and the public.

"Why can't others look at the information and try it themselves?" he said. "Why don't we get in front of it?" 

Landlord B.C. executive director David Hutniak said the Ontario ban on no-pet clauses in rental agreements has not created a 'rosy' situation for landlords or tenants, and rental prices in that province have increased to cover the costs of pet damage to property.

Meanwhile he said, most of the recently constructed rental buildings in B.C. are pet-friendly, and the industry in B.C. is urging governments to provide incentives to build more.  

"If we had a three to four per cent vacancy rate, there wouldn't be this crisis," Hutniak said. "Pet friendly accommodation would be available."


With files from CBC Radio One's On the Island and All Points West