All too often I hear of people who are giving up their beloved family pet because their landlord enacted a new no- pets policy, or because they are moving into a rental property that has a no- pets policy. Less frequently, I also hear of landlords who will allow cats but require that they be declawed.
Before you accept a rental policy that costs your family, disrupts your life and harms your pet, there are a few steps you should take.
Know your rights
Did you know that, as a tenant, you have certain rights? Each area will have its own set of rules and bylaws for tenants and landlords, but don't just assume that your landlord is following these rules. Make sure you know what your rights are regarding your tenancy and pets before you are forced into doing anything.
For example, did you know that in Ontario your landlord cannot evict you or force you to get rid of your pet unless they are dangerous, causing excess noise, damage to the unit or allergy problems? Even if you signed a lease with a no- pets agreement, they cannot evict you. No- pets clauses are considered invalid under the law and the only way you can be evicted for having a pet is if the Landloard and Tenant Board of Ontario determines that the pet meets one of the above criteria. This means that, while a landlord can choose not to rent to someone who has pets, once you have started your rental and are moved in, they cannot evict you for having pets.
Laws will vary depending on where you are, but don't let yourself be bullied into disrupting your life or your cat's life when the law may actually be on your side! Be informed.
Don't capitulate, negotiate
If local laws will not protect you and your pets, then the next step is not to give up and give in, but to negotiate and educate your landlords.
Most landlords that do not allow pets or that require cats to be declawed have these policies because they are worried about property damage. Noise, allergies and messes in communal areas such as the lobby or front law may also be a factor.
As a responsible pet owner it is worth your while to try to educate your landlord about why these policies are misguided and unnecessary. If you can provide reasonable alternatives so that your landlord can feel that their interests are sufficiently covered you may be able to convince them to change their rental policies.
- Acknowledge their concerns. Be polite and reasonable and let them know that you understand their concerns and respect their desire to maintain a clean, undamaged building.
- Explain normal cat behaviour. The people creating policy may be completely unfamiliar with cat behaviour. Explain that cats can easily be trained to use a scratching post instead of the carpet, and that cats instinctively prefer to bury their waste in clean litter rather than depositing it just anywhere. Explain that cats do not typically scratch at walls, doors and trim, and that even an untrained cat is more likely to scratch the tenant's furniture than destroy the unit itself. Let them know that you will provide a clean litter box and appropriate surfaces for your cat to scratch.
- Let them know that your cats are spayed/neutered. Explain spaying/neutering eliminates the undesirable cat behaviours that they may be concerned about, such as yowling, territory marking with urine & feces, fighting, and attracting stray cats to the area. Let them know that these behaviours are typical of intact animals and that yours have been fixed.
- Assure them that your cat will be in a carrier or on a leash any time they are in a public area. Animals running at large can be dangerous and a nuisance. Reassure them that your cat will be kept under control at all times.
- Explain what declawing is and that it often results in other undesirable behaviour. Many people do not understand what declawing is and have no idea that it may result in other even more undesirable behaviour, like peeing outside the litterbox. Make it clear that declawing is unnecessary and cruel and that if they are concerned about the cat scratching there are alternatives, such as Softpaws [http://www.softpaws.com/], which you would be willing to use.
- Provide documentation to support your claims. Provide supporting evidence from reputable sources to back up what you are saying. If your landlord requires declawing, talk to your vet – they may be able to provide a document or letter supporting your stance against declawing.
- Offer to pay an additional security deposit. Assure them that while your cat is trained and you do not expect your cat to destroy anything, should something in the unit be damaged by the cat, you will take responsibility for repairing or replacing it. Show that you are serious about this by offering to pay a larger security deposit.
- Remind them that a responsible tenant is a responsible tenant, and likewise an irresponsible tenant will cause problems even without pets. Their rental agreement should already cover troublesome tenants, such as ones that cause excess noise, disruption or property damage.
- Offer to provide recommendations on drafting a rental policy that allows pets but protects their building and other tenants. If you can do some of the leg work for them, saving them time and effort, they may be more willing to make changes.
Your last resort
If your landlord is unwilling to listen or work with you and insists that you get rid of your pets or declaw, then you have a difficult choice to make. It may be time to consider moving to a more pet-friendly home or if that is not feasible, you may need to re-home your pets. I do not consider declawing your cat to be an acceptable compromise.
Ideally you'll be able to find a new place that allows pets in its rental agreement. If not, properties that are owned by individuals may provide more flexibility than large rental companies on pet policies – at the very least you may find it easier to get access to someone who has the power to make that decision.
If moving is not an option and you must re-home your pets, do everything in your power to find a new home yourself, rather than dropping your cat off at a shelter. All shelters have an abundance of cats and too few adopters, and your cat runs the risk of being in a cage for an extended period of time or being euthanized if they are not adopted quickly. Use all the resources at your disposal – friends and family, community billboards, Freecycle (if your local list allows) and Craigslist. You'll feel much better knowing that your cat is going to a home instead of a cage and you will have a say in what type of home your cat goes to.
Contact your local governing body that handles tenant and landlord laws and lobby them to create bylaws that protect pet owners without compromising the safety and integrity of landlords properties.
Through responsible pet ownership and proactively promoting understanding through education we can encourage property owners to set reasonable rental rules and decrease discrimination against pet owners.