Politicians like to talk a lot about housing affordability and mental health.
These are two of the biggest issues that affect the lives of people in B.C.
What is often not mentioned is that pets in many cases are at the nexus of these concerns.
Companion animals are vital to the mental wellness of many people.
However, it’s not easy to find a place where pets are welcome, because landlords can prohibit them under the law. Where finding an affordable home is already difficult, the no-pets policy adds another barrier to housing security.
This is where animal activists like Jordan Reichert come in.
“If housing is a priority for us, then we need to look at pets as well as a part of our housing policy,” Reichert said in a phone interview.
Reichert spoke to the Straight from the community of Victoria–Beacon Hill, where is he running as an independent candidate for MLA in the October 24 provincial election.
“I’m the only candidate—maybe in the province, but certainly locally—that is going to talk about this kind of thing as important,” Reichert explained, “and part of what I do as a candidate is to bring people, animals, and the environment together.”
Reichert, a vegan, is currently the West Coast campaign officer of the Animal Alliance of Canada. He is also deputy leader of the Animal Protection Party of Canada.
He was previously employed for 11 years as a mental health and addiction worker with the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
According to Reichert, politicians are missing out on a significant aspect of mental health by leaving pets out of the conversation.
“It’s about people having companion animals that can provide them with a sense of well-being, acceptance, maybe a companionship that they wouldn’t have anywhere else,” he said.
Having a pet also helps in physical fitness, as taking a dog out for a walk, for example, provides needed exercise for an owner.
Reichert is also the cofounder of Pets OK B.C., a group that advocates for pet-friendly housing.
The organization wants the province to change the Residential Tenancy Act and remove its no-pet clause. It also seeks amendments to the Strata Property Act, which currently allows strata corporations to impose pet restrictions on owners.
In 2018, the B.C. NDP government formed a rental housing task force to review tenancy laws in the province.
The task force’s online survey results showed that comments about pets were double the number of comments about affordability, the next most popular issue.
However, it concluded that the “high number of pet-related comments may be due to a campaign by one advocacy organization that encouraged people to comment on this issue”.
In December 2018, the task force—led by Spencer Chandra Herbert, who is currently seeking another term as Vancouver–West End MLA—submitted its report and recommendations.
“While Task Force members heard the desires of pet owners to require rental housing providers to allow pets as a way to increase the supply of pet-friendly housing, members also heard from many renters and rental housing providers who did not support this legal change,” the report stated.
The report also noted concerns about “allergies, damage and disturbances to other renters”.
Also, some housing providers “indicated that they would rather remove homes from the rental market than be forced to allow people with pets to rent their properties”.
And so, “at this time, the Task Force was not persuaded that requiring all rental housing providers to allow pets would be fair for landlords or for renters who want or need to live in pet-free buildings”.
Meanwhile, Vancouver city councillor Jean Swanson is taking action about B.C.’s no-pets policy in rental homes. She has brought forward a motion to ask staff to look into what mechanisms the city can use to “curb landlords’ right to refuse rental on the basis of pet ownership”.
The motion also aims to have council ask the mayor to “advocate to the province for the prohibition of ‘no pets’ clauses in rental contracts”.
“Ontario prohibited ‘no pets’ policies in rental units, and this law has brought benefit to renters and pets for decades in Ontario,” Swanson’s motion reads.
According to Swanson, the current legislation in B.C. “discriminates against renters that have pets and are trying to find affordable housing”.
The motion is included in city council’s agenda for Thursday (October 15).
Lawyer Laura Track wrote in an online post in July 2020 that while landlords are within their rights under the law to prohibit pets, the B.C. Human Rights Code “provides an important caution”.
“A person with a disability who relies on an animal in connection with their disability has a right to have their needs accommodated,” Track noted in her article on the site of the B.C. Human Rights Clinic.
According to the lawyer, complainants are “not required to prove that they ‘cannot live’ without the animal”.
“They are however required to prove that, due to their disabilities, not having the animal would result in an adverse impact,” Track noted. “No-pet clauses may be discriminatory in these circumstances.”