Making room for Fluffy and Fido: Pet-owning renters need more options
Apartment hunting can be difficult for Winnipeg pet owners, but Jo Davies says landlords should rethink rules
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think anyone enjoys moving. I'm not talking about the part where you discover a new community or meet new neighbours or find a new favourite place to go for a walk or get a coffee.
I'm talking about the actual organization of moving: sorting through your belongings, finding boxes, cleaning behind the refrigerator (shudder). Frankly, if it came down to a choice between being staked out on a fire ant hill or packing up all my knick-knacks for a move, I say: bring on the bugs. At least they don't need dusting.
I find myself at the end of my lease, and I'm looking around to see if I can find somewhere a little less expensive to live. I like where I'm at now, but I figure if I can find somewhere that is cheaper with more amenities, I'd be a dip not to investigate moving. To that end, I was browsing a renter's guide recently.
No doubt about it: there are a lot of nice places to live in Winnipeg. We are extremely fortunate to live in a place where renting a decent two-bedroom apartment doesn't involve signing over your firstborn child or one of your kidneys.
However, it's not the rental rates that bother me. My challenge is that I have three cats. Most of the listings I came across made mention of not allowing pets of any kind.
I find this to be quite ridiculous, since whenever you rent a place, you have to put down a damage deposit. It's usually half a month's rent, and it covers any potential harm you might do to your rental unit, such as spilling red wine on the carpet or putting a hole in the drywall. Not that I've ever done that. Typically, I'm the kind of nerd that leaves a place cleaner than when I arrive.
Currently, landlords are protected by their right to charge a damage deposit to tenants who cause any harm. If a pet is living in the home, why can't any potential damage it causes be covered by the damage deposit?
As far as I'm concerned, damage is damage. It shouldn't matter whether it's caused by a pet gerbil, a cat or a particularly clumsy 48-year-old with a penchant for refinishing furniture a wee bit too close to the carpet (ahem).
Limited options for pet owners
I suspect that landlords think allowing tenants to have pets in their units is a non-issue, because renters here have limited options in the first place.
This is due to the fact that the vacancy rate for rental units has been in the basement for years. Landlords, while bound by the Residential Tenancies Act, have a lot of leeway to dictate their own terms.
I checked on the RTA page of the Government of Manitoba's website, and it is actually up to a landlord to decide whether or not they're going to allow tenants to keep pets.
It is also within a landlord's rights to charge a pet damage deposit, over and above the standard damage deposit. It can be up to one month's rent, with tenants who use service animals (guide dogs, for example) exempted from the charge.
A turning tide?
However, the tide may be turning for pet owners who rent. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation predicts that Winnipeg's rental vacancy rates will edge up from the current rate of around three percent, due to more people taking advantage of historically low mortgage rates to buy their own homes, as well as the completion of construction on many new apartment buildings.
CMHC reported that in 2015, building starts on multi-family units hit their highest peak since 1987 (when yours truly was a mere babe in the woods … ahem). It also predicted that this building boom would keep the number of units under construction elevated through 2016 and 2017, which would increase the vacancy rate.
No doubt developers are trying to cash in on low vacancy rates, but it sounds like they could end up with a lot of empty rental properties on their hands very soon. That is, unless they start taking into account the needs and wants of prospective tenants, many of whom are pet owners who aren't willing to give up their beloved animals.
I can just imagine the ads in the renters guides then: Pets gratefully accepted. Signing bonus — treats for Fluffy and Fido.
It can't happen soon enough.