Scarcity of pet-friendly rental units forces some Quebecers to make heartbreaking choices

Pet owners in the greater Montreal region bemoan their "abysmal" lack of options, sharing stories on online forums of fruitless hunting, dark dingy apartments that get snapped up instantly and even being forced to give up their pets.

Landlords say more would rent to pet owners if they could ask for damage deposits

Jennifer Bhandari spent months trying to find a dog-friendly apartment in Montreal and ended up with a real 'fixer upper.' (Submitted by Jennifer Bhandari)

Pet owners in the greater Montreal region bemoan their "abysmal" lack of housing options, sharing stories on online forums of fruitless hunting, dark dingy apartments that get snapped up instantly and even being forced to give up their pets.

The problem, they say, is that in an already-tight housing market, the vast majority of available rental units come with a no-pet clause.

Jennifer Bhandari, a teacher who lives in Villeray, described the lack of pet-friendly apartment units Montreal as "a crisis," sometimes forcing people to choose between housing and their pets.

"It's a cruel position to put people in," she said. "For many people, our pets are our family. It's like saying, 'OK, you can't move with your family; you have to abandon a precious family member.'"

Labradoodle Riley is the reason Jennifer Bhandari struggled for months to find an apartment. (Jennifer Bhandari/Facebook)

Bhandari spent months last year in a fruitless search for a place to live that would accommodate her labradoodle, Riley.

She offered to provide references, even extra money, but was met with rejection at every turn.

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Finally, she settled on the best of the worst — a "huge fixer-upper" with holes in the walls, "sludge" on the floor, water damage and a laundry list of badly needed repairs.

All of this so she could live with her beloved Riley.

No-pet clause leads to abandonment: SPCA

Year after year, the Montreal SPCA is inundated with abandoned pets leading up to and shortly after July 1, the date most apartment leases in Quebec expire.

"This situation is very difficult," said Anita Kapuscinska, communications director for the SPCA. "It's devastating not only for the family, but for the animals themselves."

"People are literally faced with the decision of keeping their own animal or finding affordable housing."

Kapuscinska said that Quebec should follow the example set in other parts of the country.

"Our neighbours in Ontario got rid of their no-pet clauses in the 1990s, and it's maybe time for us to follow suit."

Under Ontario law, landlords are not allowed to include a no-pet clause in a lease nor are they allowed to charge a pet damage deposit. They are, however, allowed to refuse to rent to someone who has pets, at their own discretion.

This means a tenant can't be evicted for getting a pet after a lease is signed, but they aren't guaranteed to find a place willing to accept the one they already have.

Protecting your 'fur family'

It's not just pets who end up out in the cold.

Lindsay Burkart, an animal health technician who works in Châteauguay, ended up briefly living out of her car after the house she rented was sold, and she wasn't able to find another place that would take her three dogs and five cats.

Lindsay Burkart has three dogs: a Great Dane, a pitbull and a boxer, and she's seen here with a friend's corgi, as well. (Lindsay Burkart)

"The trouble wasn't with the number. As soon as I'd get on the phone with somebody, even asking the question, 'Do you allow animals?' the answer was 'no.'"

When her move-out date arrived, she left her pets with family and friends and started couch-surfing.

"I slept between friends' places, from one end of the city to another. It was beyond difficult," she said. "I'm very lucky to have a lot of friends and family that reached out to help me."

Lindsay Burkart has three dogs and five cats which made it near impossible to find any housing near her work in Chateauguay. (Submitted by Lindsay Burkart)

Burkart said she was in a desperate state when a friend swooped in to help, offering her a room to rent in Noyan, Que., 70 kilometres south of Montreal.

Burkart now commutes an hour each way to work and back but says it's worth it to be reunited with her "fur family."

"I spend more than $400 on gas every month. And as much I would love to put that money toward rent, it wouldn't make a difference because it's still trying to find something that allows pets."

'The landlords are nervous'

In Quebec, landlords are not allowed to ask for a damage deposit. Bhandari suggests if they were, more might be encouraged to open up their buildings to animals.

"I think landlords have the right to protect their property, but tenants have the right to be able to move and live with their families," she said.

"The landlords are nervous," acknowledges Martin Messier, president of the Quebec Landlords Association. They worry about noise and complaints from other tenants, he said, but property damage is a big concern.

"As a pet lover myself, when I go with my small yorkie to a hotel, they will first ask me for a security deposit and a cleaning fee."

In Quebec, it is illegal for landlords to ask for a security or damage deposit. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

In 2018, the association polled its 17,000 members and found that 28 per cent allowed pets in their buildings. An additional 26 per cent said they would be willing to allow animals if they could charge a damage deposit.

"It's a bit more of a quarter of landlords who accept pets, and we would double that if a security deposit were allowed," Messier said.

There is a fair bit of misinformation circulating online about how much recourse Quebec landlords actually have when a tenant brings a pet into a no-pet building.

While some animal advocates say the no-pet clause is difficult to enforce, Quebec's rental board, the Régie du logement, says that landlords are perfectly within their rights to evict a tenant who violates the terms of their lease.

Denis Miron, a spokesperson for the rental board, told CBC that a landlord whose tenant signed a lease with a no-pet clause can demand that an animal be removed or apply to the Régie to have the tenant evicted if they fail to act.

The process, however, is lengthy and involves a hearing before the rental board at which both the tenant and the landlord must appear before the board renders a decision.

Miron noted that the no-pet clause may be void when a dog is registered as a service or therapy animal.

During this moving season, the Montreal SPCA is waiving the adoption fees for its senior animals and ones with special needs, in an effort to encourage adoption and make space for new arrivals.


Marilla Steuter-Martin

Former CBC journalist

Marilla Steuter-Martin was a journalist with CBC Montreal from 2015 to 2021.