Lexi (left) and her sister Zoe
For Brandi and Tyler, driving cross-country from Ottawa to Vancouver meant a new start and a new life. They hadn’t counted on it being the beginning of a nightmare.
Feeling fortunate at having found a pet-friendly building, they promptly moved in. Brandi and her dogs were settling in beautifully and making friends with the neighbours. When building security asked what breed her dog, Lexi, was, Brandi replied without hesitation: a pit bull. Having already seen four other cute blockheads in the building, not to mention the green doggy bags at the front door as reminders to stoop and scoop, she saw no red flags.
“We were then told that there was a bylaw prohibiting pit bulls because, according to him,” recounts an outraged Brandi, “pit bulls are ‘vicious.’ If that was so, I asked, then why were we allowed to sign a lease and move in?”
Shocked and confused, she promptly contacted their landlord who admitted that he didn’t know about the bylaw and even agreed it was unfair. Taking it to the next level, they went to the head office of the management company and were told to “plead their case” at the next strata council meeting in three weeks time.
The “vicious” Lexi.
Armed with documentation and references, they explained their position, including the fact that there were other pit bulls in the building, only to be told at the end of the meeting that this wasn’t their fault but the landlord’s. The bylaw was to be enforced, and they explained that the pitties currently in the building had been “grandfathered” (they were in the building before the bylaw was passed and allowed to remain).
“We were ultimately served with an eviction notice that outlined the legal reasons behind it,” says Brandi. “And then, adding insult to injury, they even expressed their ‘compassion’ for us and for our situation.”
In the midst of yet another relocation, Brandi remains caught up in a whirlwind of emotions – not only because they are being forced to move after scarcely settling in, but because it’s further proof that the dog breed she loves must constantly be faced with such bias and discrimination.
“Our goal in sharing our story,” she explains, “is to hopefully prevent this from happening to others.”
Sadly, Brandi’s experience is a familiar one. In a competitive housing market, finding pet-friendly accommodation is a challenge – even for people with cats or small dogs, let alone larger or stigmatized breeds. After chatting with Brandi, we wanted to share the following advice to anyone seeking housing with a bully breed or any other breed that might be targeted under restrictions (this could include mastiffs, Rottweilers, certain shepherd breeds, Akitas, Chows, and any other breed that may be regarded as a guardian or fighting breed).
If moving into a co-op, apartment, or strata building, don’t take anyone’s word on pet restrictions. They may be buried in the building’s bylaws, and many owners (like Brandi’s landlord) may be unaware of them. Even other bully breed dogs on the premises means little: an exception might have been made, the dog might be “passing” as another breed, or, as in Brandi’s case, the “grandfather” clause might have been applied.
Always ask to see a copy of the bylaws. If for some reason, you can’t, ask for a written statement from the building’s strata about pet restrictions. If there are restrictions, and they agree to make an exception for you, get this in writing too. Don’t rely on the good faith of others if there are restrictions on the books – all it takes is one angry neighbour to call for the bylaws to be enforced, and the written rules will ultimately be the deciding factor, as it was in Brandi’s case.
If a neighbour complains about your dog, be aware that if you have a large or stigmatized breed, this is an additional weapon that can be used against you. While it’s hard not to be defensive, and it might not always seem fair, try to take the moral high ground. If there are noise complaints, for example, offer to set up a web cam or a recording device to substantiate the claim. If it’s legitimate, offer to work with a trainer or hire a dog walker. If you are a responsible owner and a good neighbour, it’s likely that other people in the building will sympathize and support you if the issue is ever taken to the next level.
Above all, keep a record of these complaints and your attempts to rectify the situation. If, you have attempted to be reasonable and are being unfairly targeted, or if someone tries to change the terms of your rental agreement, try resolving the issue with your landlord, strata, or building manager first. If that doesn’t work, contact the Residential Tenancy Branch. The SPCA also has some resources online for renters, property managers, and strata councils.
Most of the time, people are reasonable and will treat your dog like what it is – a dog. But while breed-specific laws are on the books, it provides leeway for discrimination and harassment. This isn’t a unique case. Elizabeth, Mike and Milton were condo owners forced to move because of strata bylaws. Leanne, Shaun and Peanut had no restrictions in their building but were targeted by a neighbour who used the city’s breed-specific bylaws against them.
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Article by Nomi Berger