Montrealers still struggling to find pet-friendly apartments

image (1)

MONTREAL -- When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Montreal, Jeff Fogel, like many others, started going on walks to pass the time.

And while some may have found themselves wandering aimlessly, Fogel’s track was planned. 

“I have a whole route that will take me by as many houses where I’ll see cats in the window, and a couple areas where I’ve befriended some street cats or outdoor cats just so I can have some animals to pet,” he said. 

Fogel has wanted to adopt a cat or a dog for years but has never been able to – for reasons entirely out of his control. 

“I’ve lived in three apartments and all three have been not-pet-friendly,” he said. “It was always a characteristic that I hoped to find – but because I didn’t have a pet, I kind of had to weigh the two sides of ‘is this a good apartment for me vs. does it allow pets’ and if everything else fit, then I would just have to accept that it doesn’t allow pets.” 

For Michelle Mathieu, finding a pet-friendly place to live for her and her 11-year-old dog was a race. 

"The lady who was renting the apartment got so many messages, and I really pushed to be the first, first visit -- because otherwise it would've gotten scooped up in a second," Mathieu said of her Plateau home. "That's the only reason I got the apartment." 

Mathieu said she provided the landlord with references from previous landlords, her credit score, as well as references from neighbours and her bosses. 

"It was harder for me to find an apartment that accepts dogs -- even though my dog is super chill -- than finding a job," she said. "I needed more requirements to find an apartment than to find a job." 

The Montreal SPCA says it’s well aware of the lack of pet-friendly apartments available in the city, but that the scope of the problem is a bit of a blur. 

“It’s really hard to tell because we don’t have any data on the exact number of apartments that is not allowing animals – the number of people looking for an apartment…,” said executive director Elise Desaulniers. “There’s absolutely no data.” 

When the city went into lockdown, the shelter was forced to reinvent the way it operates – opting for meetings over the phone instead of walk-ins. The change meant anyone who had to abandon a pet had to book an appointment to do so. 

Keeping track of appointments meant the SPCA was able to get an idea of how often Montrealers had to abandon their pets during the pandemic -- for a variety of reasons. 

"These are circumstances that people didn't know would happen in their life," Desaulniers said. “The only thing we know from this year... is that from May to July we were getting about 100 phone calls a month from people that wanted to abandon their animals because they couldn’t find an apartment." 

Given the city's record-low vacancy rates and restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the shelter decided to launch a campaign at the beginning of the summer. It asked the Quebec Landlords Corporation (CORPIQ) to ask its members to be more lenient with potential tenants who have pets. 

“They responded, of course, they haven’t changed their mind – but there’s an open discussion with them,” Desaulniers said. 

The Quebec Landlords' Association says their rules are usually because they've had problems with irresponsible pet-owners. 

“We always have the same comments from property owners, who say because of bad experiences in the past, we will no longer accept tenants who have a pet,” said Hans Brouillette from the association. 

The group says 71 per cent of its members accept cats, but only 24 per cent would rent to a dog owner. 

Desaulniers said the SPCA is offering to train landlords on protocols when it comes to having tenants with animals in their buildings. 

“A lot of them do not own animals and just do not know, so they don’t want to take any chances,” Desaulniers said. "So we suggested to give them training..."

The provincial government is responsible for laws on pets in apartments across the province, and Desaulniers said the shelter is in communication with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food -- but that they don't seem to have any plans to make changes. Desaulniers said in Ontario, it's illegal to refuse to rent to someone just because they have a pet. 

“We discussed this with the city of Montreal but it’s not up to them to change the law,” she added. 

SNEAKING YOUR PET IN? 

Tenants who opt to adopt or bring in their existing pets despite not being allowed could face consequences, the Quebec rental board said.

"(The owner) can apply for an order to deport the animal without needing to demonstrate the serious harm," said spokesperson Denis Miron in an emailed statement to CTV News. "He can also request the termination of the lease and the eviction of the tenant if he is able to show that he is suffering serious damage." 

Miron also said if there's no clause in a tenant's lease specifically prohibiting animals, "the tenant is presumed to be entitled to own them." 

TIPS FROM THE SPCA

The SPCA's advice for pet owners in the city is to ask prospective landlords to meet their animal. 

“If you show them that your dog behaves well and is well-trained and won’t make any noise, of course this helps," Desaulniers said. “Push, try to meet with the owner and show that you are responsible pet owner – it often works.”

Mathieu said she's noticed that more and more, tenants are tasked with finding their replacements when they decide to leave an apartment and many aren't willing to go through the hassle of asking the landlord about pets. 

"They would of course choose someone who doesn't have a pet over somebody who does," she said. 

As for Fogel, he hopes that he'll one day be in a position to adopt a furry friend "who he can do right by." 

“I don’t know if or when I’m ever going to be able to have a pet," he said. “I can’t even imagine how stressful and difficult it is for people who already have one but have to move." 

With files from CTV News' Stephane Giroux. 

SIGN UP NOW

Stay up-to-date and in-the-know by subscribing to one of our newsletters