There are so many animals available for adoption and any number of people who would like to adopt but cannot because their landlord won’t permit it.
We receive phone calls every year from people asking what can be done. They want to know what the Régie du logement will do if they keep or acquire a cat or dog. The only honest answer is: “I don’t know.”
People do go to court about the issue; some win, some lose. There are contrary decisions based on two opposing trends of thought. The one thing that has been decided over and over again is that a clause in a lease prohibiting the ownership of a pet is not intrinsically abusive; it is not in itself unreasonable or contrary to the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
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Apartments and residences are meant for people and other tenants may consider animals unhealthy or undesirable.
There are animal owners who are inconsiderate of the feelings of others and permit their dogs to bark continuously, or fail to pick up after them, or permit them to dirty the common areas.
Animals can be a source of problems between tenants. Landlords, to avoid these problems, may include a no-animal clause in the lease.
There can be a strong relationship between a person and his pet, as can be seen by the number of people walking their dogs in even the most inclement weather. There are those who feel it is a fundamental right to own a pet.
Rental-board judges must decide each case on its own merits. There exists in the Quebec Civil Code a provision that states that a clause imposing an obligation that is unreasonable in particular circumstances can be abusive. Such a clause can be nullified or any obligation to which it gives rise may be reduced. Given the particular circumstances, the judge must decide whether the clause prohibiting the possession of an animal is unreasonable.
In a recent case before the rental board, a paraplegic man signed a lease knowing no dogs were allowed. He had no dog and at the time of signing the lease he had no intention of acquiring one. Shortly after moving in, he broke his hip, further reducing his mobility. His mother gave him a dog and he became very attached to it.
The judge held that the lease was a contract that bound the parties and that the clause in the lease prohibiting dogs was, in itself, neither abusive nor unreasonable. However, in the particular circumstances of this case, the animal helped the tenant move about; it was helping to compensate for the tenant’s handicap. It was not the tenant’s attachment to the dog that made the difference but the usefulness of the animal. It was also important that there was no proof that the dog was disturbing any of the other tenants. The clause was suspended so long as the tenant obtained a medical certificate as to the necessity of having the assistance of the dog. It would therefore be unreasonable to apply the prohibiting clause to this particular tenant.
If a landlord wishes to cancel a lease due to the presence of an animal, he must prove that either he or the other tenants are suffering some form of annoyance or harm because of that animal. If a tenant does not want the animal prohibition clause in a lease to apply to him, he must prove that the presence of the animal is not causing anybody any trouble and that its presence is necessary for his health or security.
Because the clause is a valid one under normal circumstances, the burden of proof is on the tenant. Each case must stand on its own merits. There have been many cases in which a medical report states that a pet is being used for animal therapy and is necessary to help with either a physical or mental condition.
The desire for the companionship of an animal is not enough—proof of therapeutic necessity as established by medical expertise is required. Perhaps someday the concept of animal therapy will become better defined as an area of mental health practice and recognized as being applicable to a greater variety of situations. Maybe then the need or desire of the companionship of an animal will make a difference.