Office: 165 Pretoria Avenue, Ottawa ON. K1S 1X1
This is the story of a $47,000 dog named Peaches and its troubled stay in a condominium.
It all began back in July 2014 when a lady named Anne and her dog moved into a condominium unit owned by her common-law partner, Bob. The unit is part of a condominium corporation which consists of 57 suites in three buildings.
One of the condominium’s rules restricts the size of a resident’s dog or cat to 25 pounds or less. Anne and Bob were aware of the 25-pound restriction when they moved into the unit. Shortly after the approximately 40-pound pooch arrived, the property manager sent a letter advising that Peaches – a Golden Retriever/Australian Shepherd mixed breed – had to leave because it exceeded the weight limit and was in breach of the rules.
After a series of exchanges with the property manager, the unit’s owners took the position that Peaches was a therapy dog and Anne produced a doctor’s letter stating that the dog helped her deal with “stress and past abuse”. She requested an accommodation under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Typically the Code trumps the rules in a condominium project if it can be proven that that the applicant has a need related to his or her disability.
Since the doctor’s letter was vague about her specific disability, the condo board denied Anne’s request for an accommodation and again demanded that the dog be removed from the building.
Ultimately the corporation took Bob and Anne to court seeking an order that the dog be removed permanently from the unit. The case was heard in April and the judge’s decision was released in June.
The judge found that the doctor’s letter was insufficiently detailed to establish that Anne had a disability entitling her to claim a duty of accommodation from the condominium. As well, even if the evidence showed she had a disability, she would not have been prohibited from having a service dog, but only from having one heavier than 25 pounds.
The judge noted that stress is not a disability recognized by the Human Rights Code and that the condominium had not discriminated against Anne. It had requested further objective information about her medical condition and the request was refused.
After a two-day court hearing, the judge ordered Peaches to be removed from the building.
In a subsequent ruling released last month, the judge awarded the condominium corporation a whopping $47,000 in court costs, which can be collected as lien against Bob’s unit. On top of that, the couple had to pay their own lawyers and those costs could easily have doubled the bill.
The lesson that emerges from this case is owners who a request a duty of accommodation from their condominium should make sure they have a disability recognized by the Human Rights Code.
As well, getting into a fight with a condominium corporation can be a very risky and expensive undertaking.
By Bob Aaron, a Toronto real estate lawyer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note from Robert: The names of the people involved have been changed.