it's not quite a story of man bites dog, but it's almost as weird. A local property management company is asking tenants to agree to pay higher rents if they have canine companions.Renter Jean Morrison learned that tenants signing leases as they move into her building, 265 Dixon Road, and its sister building at 263 (a total of 362 units) are being asked to agree to a rent increase of $250 if they have or acquire a dog. Briar Lane Property Management, a company that owns at least a thousand units across the GTA, has asked tenants in other buildings to sign similar leases.
According to Briar Lane VP Brad Smith, "We're not out to charge any tenant for having a small pet." The clause, he says, is about protecting current residents from dangerous or disruptive dogs. "We've had some problems in the past with people who've had Dobermans and Rottweilers." There are costs associated with large, aggressive dogs, he says - he cites noise issues, repairs and annual sod replacement where dogs have urinated. "If they have a Doberman or an Irish wolfhound that weighs 400 pounds, we want to know about it."
His company's lawyers are considering rewriting the lease to make it clear that they're not persecuting peaceful pups, perhaps by specifying a surcharge for dogs over a maximum weight or for certain dangerous breeds. Smith wonders, though, if this will work.
"In this day and age is that being unfair to dogs? It gets crazy."
Indeed, this may be discrimination - not against dogs, but against tenants. Section 15 of the Tenant Protection Act makes it illegal to exclude pets from an apartment.
Bart Poesiat, a staffer at Parkdale Community Legal Services, can only laugh. "That's a new twist. That's not covered in the Tenant Protection Act or any other act. But I sure admire the inventiveness of landlords."
While the act doesn't protect renters from being charged for pets, the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations hopes one of the tenants at a Briar Lane property who has signed the lease will step forward to challenge it in court. They have already spoken with lawyers from the Advocacy Centre for Tenants of Ontario and are gauging interest on their part in pursuing a challenge.
"This is a sledgehammer approach," says Dan McIntyre, a program coordinator at the FMTA. "Responsible pet ownership is an important issue, but (this is) not thoughtful.'
Some new tenants signed the lease without noticing the clause in the 18-page document. According to Morrison, one man was told by management not to worry about his small dog. But since she's had puppies he's nervous about a potential rent increase because of the dog proviso. McIntyre warns against the leverage this gives a landlord.
"Let's say I have a small dog and they give me the wink-wink. Then down the road I have a problem with the heating bills or want to start a tenants association or challenge the owners at the rental housing tribunal.' A landlord, he says, could then muzzle a tenant by threatening to invoke the clause. Likewise, he suggests, a rent increase could be applied selectively to surreptitiously discriminate against tenants who are unwanted.
"It's like a loaded gun."