While most condominium residents accept the limitations that come with condominium living, there are always some who refuse to live by the rules. This is particularly true when it comes to pets.

Many condominium corporations restrict the type and number of pets permitted in residential condominium units. Some condominiums prohibit pets altogether. These rules, of course, are subject to valid and legitimate human rights considerations.

Enforcement of pet restrictions has resulted in countless disputes and lawsuits. We are beginning to see a new trend emerge in pet enforcement matters. We have seen an increase in residents trying to keep pets, in contravention of the governing documents, by claiming their pet is a service or therapy animal and therefore, whose eviction would offend human rights legislation. For-profit websites have even sprung up selling equipment and documents which identify and “certify” any pet as a service animal.

The recent case of Simcoe Condominium Corporation No. 89 v. Dominelli is a good illustration of the problem. The unit owner and his girlfriend who resided in the unit had a dog which did not comply with the condominium’s 25-pound weight restriction for pets. The unit owner refused to remove the dog, claiming that its removal would be contrary to the Ontario Human Rights Code. Initially the owner’s girlfriend stated that the dog was a service dog which worked with autistic children. When the condominium pointed out that this did not constitute a service dog for the residents of the union, the owner then claimed that the dog was a “service/therapy” dog that supported the “emotional needs” of his girlfriend.

The judge refused to accept a human rights exemption and ordered the owners to remove the dog for two reasons: (1) the owner failed to establish that his girlfriend had a disability within the meaning of the Human Rights Code and (2) even if the owner’s girlfriend did have a disability, the owner failed to establish that a dog weighing more than 25 pounds was necessary to meet her disability-related needs. The owner was ordered to pay $45,000 to the corporation for legal costs. The owner could have avoided a significant amount of stress and expense if he had simply complied with the rules and removed the dog when asked to do so.

Managers and boards should have a protocol in place setting out what is required to qualify a pet as a service or therapy animal for purposes of human rights and accessibility requirements. The protocol should require the owner or person making the request to provide a letter from their treating physician which confirms that the person has a disability and that the specific pet is required to meet the resident’s disability-related needs.

Service dog impersonation has become so significant that British Columbia has enacted legislation to deal with “fake” service dogs. The B.C. Guide Dog and Service Dog Act, sets out a process for certifying dogs as official service animals. In order to be certified as a service animal, the dog must either pass a test or be trained by a recognised organisation such as the International Guide Dog Federation or Assistance Dogs International. Dogs and individuals with disabilities are certified together, as a “service dog team”. Once certified, the service dog team has the same rights of access as individuals not accompanied by a dog. Individuals can face a fine of up to $3,000 for fraudulently claiming that their animal is a service dog or that they are part of a service dog team.

British Columbia amended its Strata Property Act to incorporate the Guide Dog and Service Dog Act, which suggests that the new legislation is directed, at least in part, at condominium residents. Only time will tell if British Columbia’s legislation is able to prevent condominium residents from falsely claiming their pets are service dog.