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U of T Student and Pig Seek Downtown Apartment

Toronto's rental apartment market is difficult to crack—especially if your household pet is unusual.

Otis (left) and Alex (right).

Given Toronto’s vicious rental market, just owning a cat or a dog can make it difficult to find a place to live downtown. In Ontario, “no pets” clauses in lease agreements are unenforceable. In practice, many landlords keep pets out by carefully screening renters.

But at least one pet owner scouring the classifieds right now is in a predicament even worse than the usual. Her animal companion is Otis, a miniature pig.

Alex (who asked that we withhold her last name and some other identifying information) is a 21-year-old first-year University of Toronto student. She currently lives with her mother and her sister in her childhood home, in a part of Toronto that is far from downtown. For two months, she has been searching for her first apartment. Ideally, it would be an affordable place near U of T where both she and Otis could live, with access to a backyard where the pig could frolic and graze freely.

Landlords, so far, have not been understanding.

“I’ve probably talked to around 100 people by email,” said Alex. She now tells prospective landlords about Otis before she arranges to meet them. In two months of searching, she has toured about 15 apartments.

“The only place that actually was going to rent to me was dingy and grungy and had holes in the walls, and flooded. It was not a good thing,” she said. She’s hoping to find something on the main floor of a house, or in a basement.

In desperation, she turned to Craigslist, where she posted a plaintive want ad titled: “I have a pet pig. Who will rent to me?”

Alex believes her difficulties stem from the common assumption that pigs like Otis are dirtier and more destructive than less unusual types of household pets. She insists that these are misconceptions.

A few things about Otis:

He’s adorable. At a little over a year old, he’s about the size of a basset hound. He has a coat of wiry black and white hair—mostly gone at the moment, because of seasonal shedding. When you pet him, he oinks softly and pokes his mottled black snout out at you. He likes belly rubs.

He’s litter trained. Inside Alex’s mother’s kitchen is a plastic litterbox, reinforced with plywood to keep Otis from flipping it with his snout. He uses it daily.

He can also obey commands of the “sit, stay” variety. He goes for walks on a leash. And he’s friends with Hunter, the family dog. They beg for treats together.

Otis is also illegal in Toronto. Pigs, along with other barnyard animals, are specifically prohibited as pets under City bylaws. Keeping one is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000. This is why Alex doesn’t want her last name divulged.

“I really love him. I can’t give him up. I just can’t do it,” she said. “He’s like my baby.” (She does eat pork. The irony is not lost on her.)

Alex got Otis as a piglet, in June 2011, from a breeder in Orangeville. She had wanted her own pig since childhood. “She has loved pigs all her life,” said Alex’s mother, whose name is Barb. “Her room was pigs. She had these little pig figurines, stuffed animals. Every birthday, every Christmas, she would get something pig related.”

Miniature pigs are still relatively new to the market, and breeders don’t quite have the genetics down pat. In the UK—where, if Google is any indication, pet pigs are far more popular than they are here—the press is full of tabloidy accounts of innocent buyers who took home so-called mini pigs, only to watch them grow until they weighed 300 pounds or more.

Pigs can also be challenging to control, because they’re both smart and strong. Otis, if left to his own devices, is able to open a refrigerator and eat all the fruits and vegetables he finds inside. Alex and her mother use a heavy-duty child safety gate to prevent that from happening.

When he was younger and more prone to temper tantrums, Otis would even occasionally snack on the living room couch. It still bears the bite marks.

And he’s emotional. Alex described his whiny spells in a tone of voice reminiscent of an exasperated older sister. The pig likes to lay with his head in her lap, and he becomes sulky when he’s pushed away. He makes a high, keening sound when Alex strokes his head.

Alex’s mother Barb seems as though she, too, will be happier when the apartment search is over. The pig was not her idea. “Sometimes he is annoying,” she said.

If you have any leads on pig-friendly apartments, you can send them to us and we’ll forward them along.

CORRECTION: September 25, 2012, 7:50 PM This post originally mischaracterized the legality of “no pets” clauses in lease agreements. They aren’t illegal, as originally stated. But they are unenforceable.


  • Anonymous

    > When you pet him, he oinks softly and pokes his mottled black snout out at you. He likes belly rubs.

  • Anonymous

    He’s adorable, but the owner should know that having a pig in the city is a violation of the municipal code:
    This publicity could backfire badly.
    -an interested lawyer and pig-lover

  • Louisa Malcangi

    I sympathize with this girl’s struggle to find suitable and affordable housing, particularly with a pet. Far too many pet owners are forced to either accept substandard housing in order to be accepted as a tenant, or give up their forever friends. He’s a darned cute little guy that no doubt makes a sweet and loving companion. That said, he’s an illegal animal. Pet owners have a responsibility to ensure that when they accept responsibility for a pet’s life, that they are able to do so in a clean, safe, and lawful manner. Knowing that you can’t have pigs in the city, a little forethought should have gone into how situations like housing would be dealt with as Alex and Otis grew and moved on. Landlords should be held to account for discriminating against pet owners, but by no means should any landlord be expected to allow the law to be wilfully broken. Stay home Alex, fight to get the law changed if you think it’s unfair, or find a city that allows pigs.

  • CountZero

    I knew that landlords aren’t technically allowed to prohibit pets, but I’m wondering how this shakes out in actual practice. Obviously if a landlord doesn’t want pets on the premises, and you tell him you have a pet, he can choose not to rent to you and come up with some other reason, if pressed. And if you sign a lease and move in, and then sneak a pet in later, I’m guessing the landlord can’t evict you for it, but I’m also sure that an enterprising landlord could find ways to make your life difficult enough that you eventually move of your own volition, and/or could come up with some other pretense to evict you. So although it’s not legal, it seems like it’s pretty easy for landlords to enforce anyway, albeit potentially in roundabout ways.

    I’ve never had any experience with this. Although I’ve rented a few apartments that specified no pets, in each case I talked it over with the landlord beforehand and got their permission.

  • uranidiot

    i don’t sympathise.

    You’re an idiot. Typical girl wanting something and rationalising it as needing something and not realising the consequences.

    • ursexist

      “Typical girl”???
      Sexist much, uranidiot?

      • Uranidiot

        The hard truths hurt, don’t they

  • CaligulaJones

    Thanks for the latest entry in the “I’m SO Fucking Entitled” Sweepstakes…

  • Kait MacMurray

    I wanted to get a pet pig but it’s against the law? No farm animals as pets in city limits, girl. That poor thing will probably be taken away from her now.

  • Dave

    “Otis is also illegal in Toronto…This is why Alex doesn’t
    want her last name divulged.”

    Wouldn’t this also be why no landlord will rent to her? I don’t think it has anything to do with people not understanding how cute Otis is or how much Alex loves him.

    Interested Lawyer/Pig Lover: do you happen to know if the landlord would be the one getting stuck with the $5,000 fine?

  • AmandaF

    “She does eat pork. The irony is not lost on her.”


  • smartygirl

    holy entitlement, batman.

    no sympathy here for people who don’t think ahead and expect the rules to be bent for them. seriously any student who can afford $1200 for an apartment should be grateful for s/he has, not moaning about how unfair the world is.

  • NoPetsPlease

    Unless someone needs a pet to assist them with a disability, I am all in favour for a law that allows landlords to prohibit pets. Having barking neighbours and finding animal hair in the laundry is no fun.