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Pet owners feeling rental market's squeeze

Whistler Animals Galore says many forced to surrender pets over housing



Whistler Blackcomb ski instructor Antje Schiebel never imagined living in a travel trailer on a storage lot in Pemberton. But, with a Parson terrier named Bolt in tow, Schiebel has had to make certain sacrifices when it comes to housing.

"Don't get me wrong: I love it and it's great to have this experience and this adventure, but it's definitely not something I would want to do forever," said Schiebel, 37.

Schiebel's story is a common one among local pet owners already dealing with limited options in a tight housing market. According to Cat Mazza, assistant manager of Whistler Animals Galore (WAG), the shelter sees a significant number of owners turning over their pets due to their housing situation—so much so, that the organization has added "Unable to Find Housing" as a reason for surrender in their computer system.

"It is known to be almost impossible for people moving here, and many people who come here left their pets at home, with family, gave them away, or surrendered them to a shelter," she wrote in an email.

The B.C. SPCA estimates that housing-related circumstances account for a fifth of the animals surrendered in the province. Locally, a quick search of Craigslist shows that, of the 64 rental listings posted in Whistler, only 15 would consider allowing pets—and most of those include certain caveats, such as a costly deposit or restrictions on the type and size of animal permitted. In Pemberton, only two of 11 listings allowed pets, while in Squamish, 28 of 86 listings did in some form.

Speaking with Jen Biberdorf, an administrator for the Whistler Housing Rentals for Locals Facebook group, the situation seems even less promising. Counting nearly 29,000 members, Biberdorf said she has seen, on average, "less than one" pet-friendly housing offer annually in the almost seven years the group has been running.

Housing being a provincial mandate, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is limited in its authority to dictate pet-friendly housing policies. The Whistler Housing Authority (WHA), an independent, municipally owned corporation, allows pets in much of its inventory.

Mayor Jack Crompton said the focus for the RMOW remains on adding new rental housing, which should, in turn, "free up housing overall."

"That kind of supply-side action, I think, makes housing available to people with pets and without," he added.

Simply adding affordable housing does not, of course, ensure that that accommodation will be pet-friendly, however. B.C.'s Residential Tenancy Act gives landlords the right to limit the type, number and size of animals, though many landlords opt to ban pets altogether.

Tova Jamernik, a council candidate in last October's local election, believes the RMOW should be going a step further by requiring future private-developer housing proposals to allow pets in order to be considered. But, as municipal spokesperson Michele Comeau explained in an email, the RMOW does not have the legal authority to take that step—although it can provide guidance to developers.

"(W)e would encourage developers to consider the many varied needs and preferences of potential tenants, one of which is pets," she wrote.

Legal implications aside, Jamernik believes the issue should be viewed by officials through an entirely different lens, citing the emotional and mental benefits that a pet can provide.

"The issue is, it's not just a pet thing; it's a demographic thing. When you think about who the renters are, it's usually the lower-income demographic, the ones who are struggling the most financially. I would say a lot of the younger people," she noted.

In Vancouver, where vacancy rates hover around zero, advocacy group Pets OK BC was formed in 2017 to lobby for more pet-friendly housing. Specifically, the group has called for legislation similar to Ontario tenancy law, which allows landlords to refuse tenants with pets, but does not permit them to evict tenants who purchase or adopt animals after a lease has already been signed.