Loki in sweater

As someone who has lived in countries where the mother tongue is a language other than English, I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for anyone trying to learn English.

When I studied French in school and when I learned German while living in Germany, it became pretty apparent that other languages are more consistent than English.  Once you learn the rules of grammar and sentence structure, you can basically work on improving your vocabulary, practice the different tenses and you are good to go.

With English, the rules are pretty straight forward – except every rule has about a dozen exceptions.

If you are a native English speaker, you likely don’t think about those exceptions much.  We pick up most of them on ad hoc basis as we grow up.  There a few exceptions that we remember being taught (“i before e, except after c”) but generally we have just absorbed the exceptions and moved on with our lives.

I was thinking about this recently as I was explaining to a client the rule in Ontario around pets in rental properties.  It’s super straightforward – except it isn’t.

Let me explain how it works.

Landlords can absolutely and legally say no pets permitted when they are advertising a rental unit.  They can refuse to rent to a tenant because they have a pet.  It isn’t considered discrimination because pet ownership isn’t covered under the Human Rights Code.

Pretty straightforward, right?

It starts to get more complicated when a tenant either lies about having a pet before they move in or gets a pet after they have moved in.

Despite the fact that a landlord can refuse to rent to a tenant who has a pet, they can’t just evict a tenant who acquires a pet once they move in.  There is of course, an exception to this.  If the rental unit is in a condominium that has a building declaration that says no pets then the landlord or the condo corporation can absolutely toss the tenant and the pet.

For tenants in a condo building without a building declaration that says no pets, or tenants who are in a basement apartment, a non-condo building or a rental house of some sort, the landlord cannot evict because of the new pet.

Well, with a few exceptions.  Three to be exact.

Under the Residential Tenancies Act (Part V, Security of Tenure and Termination of Tenancies) landlords can in fact put forth an application to evict based on animals.   The landlord can do so by proving one (or more) of three allegations:

  1. The landlord is required to prove that the behaviour of the animal “has substantially interfered with the reasonable enjoyment of the residential complex for all usual purposes by the landlord or other tenants”;
  2. The landlord is required to prove that the “presence of an animal of that species has caused the landlord or another tenant to suffer a serious allergic reaction”;
  3. The landlord is required to prove that the “presence of an animal of that species or breed is inherently dangerous to the safety of the landlord or the other tenants”.

Number 1 covers the nuisance element, where you have a dog that is barking or leaving messes in the building or on the property.  Number 2 covers where other people in the building have animal allergies.  Number 3 is rarely used as it is quite difficult to prove that the pet is inherently dangerous.

These exceptions to the rule that says landlord’s can’t evict tenants for issues stemming for pets make for some very confused landlords and tenants.

This confusion causes no end of trouble between the two sides of the rental agreement.  There are tenants who think that landlord’s aren’t allow to say you can’t have pets, there are landlords who think they can evict a tenant the moment they adopt a dog or cat and neither side is happy when they find out the truth.

In Ontario there are also restrictions against charging any sort of damage deposit, including for pets.  This means that a good landlord who wants to follow the law but is concerned about the pet damaging the rental unit can’t ask for a damage deposit.

When I have helped clients with pets find a rental unit, I’ve often advised them to volunteer a damage deposit.  In another of the strange quirks of the rules, it is perfectly legal for a landlord to accept an offered damage deposit.  It’s just illegal for the landlord to ask for it themselves.

As someone who owns a dog (that’s him at the start of the article!) and who loves animals, I wish there were some changes made to the laws in this regard to make it easier for landlords and tenants with pets to work together to an amicable agreement.

If you or someone you know finds themselves having a difficult time with this pets in rentals conundrum, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.  I’d love to be responsible for what comes next.