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Let Landlords Keep Their Right To Refuse Pet Owners

06/07/2013 06:37 EDT | Updated 08/07/2013 05:12 EDT

Vancouver Coun. Tim Stevenson must think he's doing a great thing for the city's renters.

His motion at city council, supported by Mayor Gregor Robertson, proposes to remove the rights of landlords to deny tenancies to people who own pets. He argues that pet owners have difficulty finding housing and that renters face eviction if they ask to have a pet, CTV News reports.

Stevenson's stated concern is for seniors, widows, anyone lacking close companionship in their lives. And while it's a laudable goal to want to stave off people's loneliness in old age, it seems that neither he, nor the mayor, have much regard for tenants and landlords who suffer from pet allergies or how serious those symptoms can be.

I can't be certain that health is the reason why landlords are declining pet owners as tenants (the risk of noise and defecation on expensive hardwood floors is a more likely consideration) but it's more than enough reason to deny tenancy.

I have often heard pet owners try to allay health concerns by saying their pets don't shed hair. But pet hair's not the problem. Dander is -- skin particles that dogs and cats leave behindwhere they roam. All pets have it, all of them shed it. "Hypoallergenic" is a myth.

Dander can inflame asthmatics' airways, making it difficult for them to breathe, says the Asthma Society of Canada. But dander isn't the only problem. Pets also leave behind traces of saliva, urine and feces, all of which can impede your respiratory system.

So just imagine that Stevenson got his way. Say a landlord has just renovated a suite to make it more attractive for tenants. He's installed new hardwood floors, blinds and a kitchen.

Then let's say he signs a one-year lease with a man who owns a labrador retriever. The tenant lives there for a year, largely without incident except some late night barking and the time the dog urinated on the floor.

The tenant moves out, and the next tenant is a family of three with a four-year-old asthmatic for a son. The landlord has assured them he's taken special measures to clean out the unit, but trace amounts of dander aggravate the boy's asthma anyway.

He wakes up in the middle of the night, unable to breathe, and the family is forced to look for a new place in a city where you can't be sure that a pet hasn't lived there before you. They simply don't know where they can go.

(There is, of course, a possibility that they would find a place that didn't have a dog or a cat before them. If you cleaned a unit vigorously enough, you'd likely get rid of most of the allergens, but there's always the risk of a trace being left behind.)

One can certainly understand that pet owners face difficulties finding a place. But the fact is, pet ownership is a choice, and owners effectively volunteer for all the hassle that comes with it. That includes walking your dog, feeding it, bathing it, cleaning up after it and, yes, the risk that a prospective landlord might not want them in their home.

Tim Stevenson, it should be said, is a good man. He is a pioneer, a trailblazer and a strong advocate against social injustice. He undoubtedly believes that he's doing the right thing for people who can't find a place to live.

I merely ask that he and the mayor take heed of unintended consequences. People with allergies already suffer from pet owners bringing animals into airplane cabins and workplaces. It can't be too much to ask that they don't have to suffer where they live.