Yellowknife is a dog-loving town. Until you try to rent.
Rylund Johnson, one of Yellowknife’s MLAs, is fond of wagering that the city “has the worst ratio of dog owners to places that don’t allow dogs.”
While the municipality did not provide the number of dog licences issued in 2021 by deadline, browse any Yellowknife housing forum and you’ll quickly see the number of rental-seeking pet owners is far higher than the number of pet-friendly rentals on offer.
In some provinces, like Ontario, no-pet clauses in rental agreements are void. Landlords aren’t allowed to evict tenants that acquire a pet. In Yellowknife, despite their numbers, dog owners are generally unpopular with landlords and violations can lead to evictions.
While many jurisdictions consider evicting a person who chooses to start a family to be a human rights violation (with some notable exceptions), Canadian courts have long established a clear distinction between fur babies and real ones.
This hasn’t stopped a wave of dog and cat custody battles from wending their way through civil courts. But as Justice RW Danyliuk of the King’s Bench of Saskatchewan put it, while dogs may be highly intelligent and faithful companions – and are often treated as a member of the family – “when all is said and done, a dog is a dog… it enjoys no familial rights.”
Even if you see a dog or cat as property, the NWT Residential Tenancies Act has no clause allowing landlords to evict tenants for owning any other kind of legal property – just pets.
When Cabin Radio reached out to a number of the city’s landlords, many had sound reasons for a refusal to accommodate pet owners.
“I have my own beloved pets,” said Nancy Zimmerman, a Yellowknife landlord. “I know what they can do to a place. Even the most responsible owner and the most lovely of pets can do very real damage, damage that can likely as not exceed a damage deposit.”
Zimmerman also described concern that tenants’ pets might pose a risk to her own, and she noted the transient nature of many Yellowknife renters — upping the likelihood of damage with each short stay.
Even some tenants said they were comfortable with the status quo. One woman described living in a unit that had sustained heavy pet-related damage, calling the experience a “nightmare.”
“Some tenants have allergies and want a pet-free home and building,” resident Margaret Gorman added in a comment posted to Facebook. “Allergies are real.”
‘One dog destroyed everything’
But others remain unconvinced.
“My rentals allow pets,” said Cherish Winsor, also a Yellowknife landlord. “I can’t understand why I wouldn’t want to appeal to this massive demographic. Pet deposits are in place to cover potential damage and responsible renters are often responsible pet owners. Seems like a win-win.”
Some tenants described what they see as a double standard around the reasons given for banning dogs and cats.
“When my daughter was [a] toddler she did more damage to my place and furniture than my dog ever did,” wrote Katherine Villeneuve in a Facebook comment.
“For allergies, I don’t think that should be an excuse because people burn strong-scented candles, incense. People bring in nuts into their home. So if someone doesn’t wash their hands [and opens] a common-space door or something, the oils are there.”
Chloë – Cabin Radio is using only her first name to protect the privacy of her tenant – describes a disastrous experience when she rented her downtown Yellowknife condo to someone with a dog.
“Generally, I think the territory should be doing more to protect landlords. I had a fully furnished rental and one tenant’s dog destroyed every piece of furniture – just-about every single item had to go to the dump.”
But Chloë still thinks it’s wrong to prevent people from experiencing the joys of pet ownership.
“I don’t blame the dog for that incident, I blame the tenant for not properly training their animal,” she said. “Renting should be like camping. As long as you pack out and leave it like you left it, it shouldn’t be anyone’s business whether or not you had a pet.”
Roberta Marie Campbell is the administrator of the Facebook group Yellowknife Accommodations, In her experience running the page, Campbell said, rental companies often have blanket rules that don’t account for tenants with pets other than cats and dogs, and don’t differentiate between regular pets and service animals.
“Companies never seem to include other pets on their list [such] as reptiles, pigs, fish, bunnies, ferrets, birds etc,” Campbell said. In her view, many companies and individuals don’t understand the difference between pets, emotional support animals and service animals.
Many landlords will offer partial accommodations – for example, allowing tenants with cats but not dogs. Others allow some dogs if they have “references.” Some specifically seek to avoid renting to tenants with “northern specials” – large mutts, often with malamute or husky ancestry, that some landlords say are capable of serious destruction inside a rental property.
Stephen Flanagan is president of the NWT SPCA animal shelter in Yellowknife, and is also one of these tenants. He’s allowed to have cats but no dogs, and he says he’s OK with that.
But he says hearing about people prevented from adopting animals by their landlords, especially when the SPCA is operating beyond capacity, is disappointing.
“I don’t want to rant or anything, but hearing that breaks my heart,” he said.
“There are so many stories of animals, and specifically northern dogs, that change people’s lives, mentally and physically. They’re just such special animals, that they often come through what they have and then find a way to connect with someone that cares about them.
“There’s just so much that they can offer, and to be prevented from having one just because someone doesn’t want their floors scratched seems a bit silly to me.”