BSL in Housing

When you live in a BC property that is governed by a strata council, the council has the legal right to restrict which pets you can own, whether by number, species, size, weight or breed.

 

It’s understandable that in dense living conditions, neighbours might have concerns about noise, damage and safety – and often the restrictions are an attempt to mitigate these. However, we’re not aware of any evidence indicating that restricting the size, weight or breed of dog necessarily makes for a more harmonious living environment.

 

A responsible owner who leashes, trains and cleans up after his 100+ pound mastiff cross is certainly a more desirable neighbour than one who allows their continuously barking, small breed dog to run amok in the common areas. Although this principle may seem obvious to many, pet restrictions do exist – and are, unfortunately, quite common.

 
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Finding Housing
In some areas, housing is scarce and the market is competitive. Having a pet of any kind presents a challenge, but larger dogs, and certain breeds, are the most likely to be discriminated against. 

There are some great resources out there for pet owners seeking housing. Allow yourself as much time as possible, be persistent but courteous, and do everything you can to make sure your dog is a great neighbor. Invest in training and consider a "dog resume" to show off your dog's best qualities. Get references from your trainer, dog walker, and previous neighbors. Check out these links for some great tips:

BAD RAP - Renting with your dog


Animal Farm Foundation - Tips for overcoming pet-owner inaccessible housing (podcast)

If you are renting or buying a unit in a co-op, strata or multi-unit building, be sure to ask specific questions about the bylaws that apply to pets. Always ask to see them yourself.

It is very common for us to hear from people whose landlord or manager was personally okay with their pet, but weren't acquainted with the letter of the bylaw. If BSL doesn't affect you personally, it's easy to be unaware. All it takes is a grumpy neighbor to use this against you down the road, and you can't count on being grandfathered in.

  • Before signing the agreement, ask to see any bylaws, regulations, and recent meeting minutes. Look for any reference to pet restrictions or breed language and get written clarification from a strata representative.

  • If there is a breed restriction that may remotely resemble your pet, ask for a statement in writing as to how breed identification is done. Shockingly, most stratas don't outline how a dog's breed is to be identified, and when there is a disagreement it usually resorts to a messy "he said she said" situation about the dog's breed. At least if you have a statement saying that a vet's statement or adoption paperwork is sufficient breed ID, you can have that on file in case concerns are raised in the future.

  • Don't make assumptions about pet policies based on other dogs who live in the building. Neighbours might be looking the other way, the resident may have an arrangement with council, or the pet might have been grandfathered in. 

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At the end of the day, it is the letter of the law that should inform your decision about whether this is the right place for you and your dog to live. If your dog falls matter what you were told by anyone else or who else in the building might be in violation.

Living in a strata complex and they are proposing BSL

The good news is that if you resided at the property before any pet restrictions were implemented, your pet should be “grandfathered in” and be allowed to remain in the building. Still, these laws are prohibitive and unfair and are worth fighting against.

  1. Do some research. Find out where these concerns are coming from and whether a specific person or incident underlies them, and see if this can be addressed directly and respectfully.

  2. If there seems to be a base of support for these restrictions, ask to make a presentation at the next AGM or strata meeting. While there aren’t a lot of resources on best practices around pet management in strata properties, we do have sample bylaws in our Resources section, and a lot of the general information about breed-specific legislation applies. Targeting owner behaviour and known risk factors is much more effective than attempting to police animals based on their appearance. The BC SPCA also has a Strata Council Guide that can be downloaded from their site – this includes general info, as well as sample pet policies.

  3. If needed, consider bringing in the experts. Contact your local animal control department, SPCA branch, trainers or animal behaviour experts. They may be able to provide a statement or presentation in support of breed-neutral pet policies. Depending on the political and community climate, the strata council may be more inclined to listen to an objective expert, rather than a resident who has a personal stake in the issue. If appropriate, perhaps an “ambassadog” or certified therapy dog can attend the meeting so that people can see what should be obvious – a dog is a dog, regardless of labels.

  4. If contention remains, consider going door-to-door and talking with neighbours directly. Ask them to sign a petition or letter indicating their opposition to unfair pet restrictions, and their support of a high standard of ownership for all pets. If the matter comes to a vote, encourage them to participate.

 

 

Along with the usual arguments against breed-specific legislation, there’s an additional point worth driving home in this context: pet restrictions may decrease property value. Many people have pets – even those in the smallest condos. Particularly in tight housing markets, people are willing to pay more for a place where they can live with their pet.

Changing strata bylaws
 
If your strata has BSL

If you and your pet are targeted by BSL, you'll have to consider whether you focus on your individual case or attempt to change the underlying bylaw. Perhaps you can do both!

If you are targeted by existing BSL

Say you receive notice that your dog has been identified as a targeted breed. Take a deep breath and don't put anything on record right away. Some tips:

  1. Make sure you are personally familiar with the bylaws. Ask for written copies of the bylaws, any meeting minutes that apply to your case or similar cases, and written notice of the alleged violation. You will likely be asked to remove the dog by a certain date.

  2. Consider consulting a tenancy board and/or a lawyer at this stage. There are animal law and property lawyers who have likely worked on these cases before. You can hire them for a consultation and perhaps to write a letter on your behalf - this shouldn't be a large expense.

  3. If you choose to deal with the situation directly, ask how breed identification was determined, and if you choose to contest it, what they would accept as proof of breed. Visual identification is flawed, and chances are that anyone pointing to your dog as a "pit bull" or other breed is no expert in canine physiology. Sometimes adoption paperwork, a vet letter, or a DNA test will be accepted as proof of breed. 

  4. If you don't dispute the breed identification itself, you have a few options.

    • You can seek legal counsel, as mentioned above, to take a closer look at the legislation and your situation.

    • You can try to negotiate an exemption. If the concern is that your dog is inherently more dangerous, you could offer to muzzle the dog in the building, or purchase additional liability insurance.

    • You could move or re-locate your dog temporarily or permanently.

    • You can try to have the legislation changed.

If you resided in your building before any pet restrictions were implemented, your pet should be “grandfathered in” and be allowed to remain in the building. If this is not permitted consult your local tenancy board for clarification.

Moving toward breed-neutral legislation

If your strata, building, or management council has BSL in their governing bylaws, or if they are proposing it, we encourage you to take action. 

  1. Do some research. Find out where the concerns are coming from and whether a specific person or incident underlies them, and see if this can be addressed directly and respectfully. Sometimes BSL is implemented in response to a specific situation, but other times it may be as simple as a "copy and paste" of an older bylaw.

  2. If there seems to be a base of support for these restrictions, ask to make a presentation at the next AGM or strata meeting. While there aren’t a lot of research on best practices around pet management in strata properties, we do have sample bylaws on this iste, and a lot of the general information about breed-specific legislation applies. Targeting owner behaviour and known risk factors is much more effective than attempting to police animals based on their appearance. The BC SPCA also has a Strata Council Guide that can be downloaded from their site.

  3. Consider bringing in the experts. Contact your local animal control department, SPCA branch, trainers or animal behaviour experts. They may be able to provide a statement or presentation in support of breed-neutral pet policies. Depending on the political and community climate, the strata council may be more inclined to listen to an objective expert. If appropriate, perhaps an “ambassadog” or certified therapy dog can attend the meeting so that people can see what should be obvious – a dog is a dog, regardless of labels.

  4. If contention remains, consider going door-to-door and talking with neighbours directly. Ask them to sign a petition or letter indicating their opposition to unfair pet restrictions, and their support of a high standard of ownership for all pets. If the matter comes to a vote, personally encourage them to participate.

  5. You could consider approaching local media. The story might be attractive if it is especially controversial, topical, or if you can attach a "human interest" element - for example, if someone risks losing their housing because of a well-behaved pet.
     

Along with the usual arguments against breed-specific legislation, there’s an additional point worth driving home in this context: pet restrictions may decrease property value. Many people have pets – even those in the smallest condos. Particularly in tight housing markets, people are willing to pay more for a place where they can live with their pet.