Support Emotional Support Animals in BC

Support Emotional Support Animals in BC

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Why this petition matters

Started by Michelle Sierra

I am a senior female living in a non-profit complex for Seniors and disabled. I happen to be both. Recently it was suggested by my family doctor of 15 years to get a cat for my anxiety and depression and assorted comorbidities. SPCA recommended that I get my doctor to write an ESA letter (Emotional Support Animal). However when I gave my Doctor's  ESA letter to Duncan Housing Society, they said no. According to the Residential Tenancy  Act, cats don't have the right to be allowed in the building, only service dogs. Of which there is one for my neighbor. They said that I needed to get the ESA letter from a mental therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Written on letterhead and showing the statistics of the mental specialist. This I have done and have given said ESA letter to management here. They are now asking for a pet deposit, up to half of my rent, which would be financially a great burden. Because of lack of support in the Provincial area, my ESA letter is practically useless as ESA's are not recognized by the Residential Tenancy Act. Why are these repressive rules in place, when low income folks with mental disabilities are refused the help they need. 

I wish more people understood...
What I have is not a cold or the flu. I will never get better. A nap won't help.I am not lazy, in fact my doctor says i must pace myself. I get tired to the point of a lethargic state. 
I'm on meds to try to make it easier to thrive and merely survive. I used to push through the pain and live my life, and when I had my cat there to support me, it happened, but now there are days where I can't  walk without having to hold on to something.
 My joints hurt. My body hurts. My moods vary, and I am sad a lot. I'm trying to control mood swings and intermittent bouts of depression by taking meds and vitamins daily, to help keep me going, but most days nothing works.
 My cat would comfort me by being in my lap, gently purring when I felt depressed or sad. At night she would be with me on the bed snuggled up and her purring would put me to sleep. When I got tense, she would call out and come running to me for a cuddle and head rubbing, pushing the anxiety away. Feeling her heart beating next to mine was such a comfort to me.
 I find it highly unconstitutional and discriminatory  that dogs are allowed as  service and therapy, but a cat is not regarded as an Emotional Service Animal.  l could not live with a dog. They are way too high maintenance. And personally I wouldn't want to live with one. I've always had a cat for companionship, emotional support and love before I had to move here. It does say in the contract the pets are not allowed. Only, this would be a support animal for my mental health. 
My depression and anxiety goes off the charts sometimes, I don't sleep well, I can't relax, I'm obsessive with organized life, which hardly ever happened when I had my cats. I find without one, I'm getting deeper and deeper into depression.
 Please, I'm begging for recognition for all ESA's, that the landlords can't turn down because of the current restrictions in the Provincial Residential Tenancy Act. In British Columbia, the Human Rights Code prevails over all other laws. This is written in the Human Rights Code.
Most provinces seem to make room for fair housing for people with disabilities. In provinces where people with mental illnesses are protected by law, a landlord must provide them with reasonable accommodation despite there being a “no-pet” policy in place. The landlord is also not allowed to charge an extra pet fee or deposit. However, according to Canadian law, the owner of an assistance animal must pay for any damages to the property caused by the animal. (Which I think is fair.) 
An emotional support letter is official proof that your companion is, in fact, an ESA. This means that they're not your pet, and so are protected by some Canadian laws. Emotional support letters are used to separate pets being passed off as ESAs from actual ESAs. 
Thank you for your time and patience on this extremely important matter, not only for me, but for all of us who are discriminated against because of our mental health and needing an ESA.
Michelle McConnell
280 First Street # 228
Duncan, BC. V9L 4T3

PS: Please find below some interesting reading supporting the rights of the disabled to have ESA's in their home, without being penalized with a hefty pet deposit.

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)
What are emotional support animals (ESAs)?
An emotional support animal (ESA) – sometimes referred to as an assistance animal – is an animal that provides companionship, comfort, support, and security to individuals who suffer from mental or emotional, and sometimes physical illnesses or disabilities.
This can include:  PTSD    chronic pain   panic attacks   anxiety   depression, and various health issues, such as high blood pressure
Cats make wonderful emotional support animals. Emotional support cats should be able to travel or live with their owners without additional pet fees.
Yes, cats can be emotional support animals. In fact, they make great emotional support animals. Cats are very affectionate and playful. They create strong bonds with their owners, regardless of the general belief that they are pesky little creatures that hate socializing.
In addition, emotional support cats are easier to house and maintain than emotional support dogs. They are generally smaller than canines and are very agile. They will find enough space and activities for themselves most of the time. You will still need to take care of their food and water supplies and clean the litter box. Other than that, all you need to do is ensure some quality playtime.
Emotional support cats are fun to play with and fun to watch, which can help boost your mood. Purring can also have therapeutic effects on people. There’s no doubt that your cat’s calm personality can also calm you down. Felines are also very good at reading people’s emotions and will respond to them appropriately.
Emotional support cats have the same rights as all the other emotional support animals.

Types of emotional support animals
Because an ESA’s role is to primarily provide comfort and security, the types of ESAs are broad. Some common types of ESAs include:
dogs  pigs  cats  ferrets  monkeys  miniature horses  hamsters fish rabbits

Do ESAs require training or certification?
Unlike service animals, an ESA does not require any specific training. However, an “ESA letter” from a qualified mental health professional who practices in your province is required to be covered by ESA laws across Canada. Otherwise, the animal is simply considered a normal (companion) pet.

What is an ESA Letter?
While provinces vary on the regulation of ESAs, there is no law in Canada that requires an individual to register their ESA or obtain certification for an ESA.
Rather, an ESA letter may be required to demonstrate that an individual requires an ESA in order for it to have access to certain places like airplanes, public places, and employment and housing. The ESA letter must be provided by a licensed mental health professional who is in good standing with the law. This means that they must comply with the Canada Health Act. The contents of this letter will generally disclose information about the owner and why an ESA is needed.
While no-pet clauses are specifically banned in Ontario, landlords in BC are within their rights under the current Residential Tenancy Act to prohibit pets in their rental units.
However, the BC Human Rights Code provides an important caution. A person with a disability who relies on an animal in connection with their disability has a right to have their needs accommodated. Complainants are not required to prove that they “cannot live” without the animal. They are however required to prove that, due to their disabilities, not having the animal would result in an adverse impact.[2] No-pet clauses may be discriminatory in these circumstances.

Provincial law
There are very few legislative approaches to addressing ESAs in each province. However, most, if not all, of the provinces address the issue of ESAs and housing and employment rights in provincial human rights laws.
Provincial human rights codes will generally impose a duty to accommodate a landlord or employer where an individual proves it is necessary that they are accompanied by an ESA.
Accommodation to housing would be granted by lifting a “no-pets” rule which recognizes that ESAs are not pets. In addition, no other measures (e.g., extra damage or security deposits) may be taken where the “no-pets” rule is lifted. This is why it is important to obtain an ESA letter so that the individual can demonstrate medical evidence that the ESA is necessary.

This blog post has been adapted and updated from an article originally published in the Fall, 2018 edition of Landlord BC’s magazine The Key.                                                       
Landlords play an important role in protecting human rights by providing discrimination-free housing and fulfilling their duty to accommodate. Accommodating tenants with a disability-related need for a service or therapy animal is a key part of providing discrimination-free housing and complying with the BC Human Rights Code.
While no-pet clauses are specifically banned in Ontario, landlords in BC are within their rights under the Residential Tenancy Act to prohibit pets in their rental units.
However, the BC Human Rights Code provides an important caution. A person with a disability who relies on an animal in connection with their disability has a right to have their needs accommodated. Complainants are not required to prove that they “cannot live” without the animal. They are however required to prove that, due to their disabilities, not having the animal would result in an adverse impact.[2] No-pet clauses may be discriminatory in these circumstances.
Some organizations argue that preventing people from having pets is discriminatory in any circumstance. In particular, they note the special importance pets have for many seniors, people transitioning from homelessness into housing, and people with mental health challenges.[3] They also note that allowing pets can be a good business decision for landlords, as people with pets tend to stay in their units longer than people without pets, reducing turnover rates and related costs.
These arguments have not been tested by BC’s Human Rights Tribunal. However, the Tribunal has stated in numerous cases that evicting or refusing to rent to someone with a disability because they have a service dog, or requiring them to get rid of their animals, may be discrimination and a violation of the Code.
Guide dogs (to assist people who are visually impaired) and service dogs (to assist people with other disabilities) can be certified under BC’s Guide Dog and Service Dog Act. Strata bylaws and rental terms prohibiting or restricting pets do not apply to BC-certified guide and service dogs. However, therapy and emotional support dogs (and others)  are not eligible for certification.[4]
In sum, the fact that the animal is not certified is not relevant to whether a landlord or strata has a duty to accommodate. The duty arises whenever a resident has a disability, and depriving the resident of their support animal would have a negative, disability-related impact on them.[7]
An unsupported claim by a landlord that allowing a service animal will “open the floodgates” and encourage others to move in with pets and call them service animals is unlikely to meet this test – and could result in a costly human rights complaint.[8]

[1] Celine Icard-Stoll, “Companion animals and affordable housing: An injustice” (June 25, 2018) Faunalytics, online:
Many Canadian lower-income older adults are having challenges with housing because they wish to live in affordable independent living facilities with a companion animal. According to this study, these already-disadvantaged adults are facing discrimination through policies that forbid companion animals and are now being forced to choose between losing a family member or losing their home.
In a country where over half of the households are also home to a companion animal, this is a significant issue that deserves attention and consideration. In comparison, the U.S. and France have actually recognized having a companion animal as a basic civil right, with the U.S. implementing protective legislation to the Department of Housing & Urban Development’s assisted housing program. Several other countries have introduced legislation that are in support of companion animals as well. This review, however, found that in Canada, only Ontario has a protection for individuals with companion animals through the Residential Tenancy Act, but the landlords that don’t comply typically don’t face consequences.
The study found that these companion animal policies are being enforced by various bodies of government, nonprofits, and private housing providers. One reason for these rules could be that these adults are viewed as irresponsible because they couldn’t adequately prepare for self-sufficiency and independent living in old age through home ownership. By extension, they are framed as being unable to properly take care of an animal. The response is to implement more discipline, ignoring institutional factors that can drastically shape someone’s life. The housing providers claim to be protecting their residents, but the true outcome is decreased freedom.
The authors underline this injustice by presenting a 2015 case that received national attention: a seventy-five-year-old woman in Calgary, Alberta was evicted from an affordable independent living facility when she got a new kitten companion. Companion animals were forbidden by the facility, and the study noted that Calgary, a city of over 1 million people and over 120,000 older adults, had just one provincially supported facility that permitted cats. Fortunately, she was able to relocate to that facility. Sadly, many other older adults won’t be able to have the same positive outcome.
The authors acknowledge the housing providers’ concerns around allergies, noise complaints, animal neglect/abandonment, and the possibility for property damage, as legitimate worries. However, U.S. providers that permit companion animals haven’t really seen these issues occurring. Even more, residents who don’t even have or want a companion animal are in support of loosening existing policies as long as the animals are receiving good care.
Anyone with a companion animal knows how much enrichment they bring to our lives and how we frequently view them as legitimate members of the family. There’s also research-backed evidence that companion animals improve our cardiovascular health, reduce feelings of loneliness, support good mental health, and can actually be a catalyst for improved relationships with our neighbors. Older adults should be able to enjoy these perks as much as anyone else. We should strive to guarantee the rights of these people – especially those who have faced financial hardships – by advocating for both improving current legislation and implementing new protections.

554 have signed. Let’s get to 1,000!