When my boyfriend and I were first on the hunt for our current apartment we had two cats. Given that many landlords aren’t fans of pets, we weren’t sure we should say anything about the cats, even though they were well trained, clean and quiet. We were worried that our application would be rejected before it was even reviewed, so we just shut our mouths. When the day came to sign the tenancy agreement, we reviewed the paperwork and noticed the “no pets” clause. At this point, not knowing our rights, we revealed that we did indeed have two cats and asked whether or not this was a problem. Our landlord said no. He had three cats himself. Phew!
But here’s an interesting point: Had we have signed the lease and agreed to the “no pets” rule, we still could have brought our pets in. It wouldn’t have made for a good start to our newly established landlord-tenant relationship, but it wouldn’t have been illegal, at least not in Ontario. In fact, unless we were living in a condo that was governed by the Condo Act, we could have as many pets in our home as we wanted – and the landlord couldn’t do a thing about it.
For us, three cats was the absolute maximum (yes, we got one more), but with no fixed rules pet lovers are free to have as many fuzzy friends as they want. Longtime Winnipegers probably remember Ms. Bertha Rand, a woman who kept so many cats in her St. James home that she was constantly getting into trouble. And there’s that Fort Rouge couple, Lyle Lay and his lady friend, who keep 30 – yes, 30 – cats in their home. They’re currently seeking permission from the city to make it legal.
In the city where I reside, there was also a tale of a local woman who had over 20 cats. The neighbours were constantly complaining about a pungent odour that emanated from her home.
If you were a landlord and this was your tenant, what would you do? What could you do? According to the Landlord and Tenant Act, not a heck of a lot unless you have a building-wide no-pet policy, at which point the tenant can refuse approval of a new application. In fact, even though some landlords do do this, it is entirely illegal to ask for a deposit to pay for pet damages. The most a landlord can ask for is first and last month’s rent and that must be used for rent only. The landlord can request that you pay for any damages caused by your pet, and if you do not comply, you can be evicted. If you do, though, they cannot ask you to leave.
Mark Weisleder, a Toronto real estate lawyer, highlights a number of pet-related cases in the region. “In a landlord and tenant board case decided in Whitby on October 7, 2009, the tenant wanted to bring a pet onto the premises, The landlord demanded a $50 fee to bring the pet as well as an additional $50 per month which would go toward a carpet replacement fund when the tenant left. The adjudicator, Claudette Leslie, decided that both of these payments were illegal,” writes Weisleder. “The only amount a landlord can ask for in advance is last month’s rent, and it can only be used towards last month’s rent.”
The second case Weisleder highlights involved a tenant who was order by the Board to pay $250 to have the home’s carpets cleaned after their cat urinated on them.
So here’s the conundrum: As a new tenant, should you be open and honest with your new landlord and tell them about your pet, knowing that this could possibly lead to a rejection of your application? Or do you shut your mouth, sign the tenancy agreement and bring your pet in anyway, risking a rocky start to your new relationship?
Weisleder offers a solution. Since lying to your landlord and being your relationship off on the wrong foot isn’t really a good idea, he suggests telling the truth, but arming that truth with testimonials, if possible. Just as one would get letters of reference for themselves, he suggests obtaining a letter of reference for your pet as well. Until the Act is amended, mutual respect is the only way to go.