Pets in condominiums is a very controversial topic. Some condominiums prohibit pets and other condominiums allow them. Prudent pet owners should be checking the condominium’s documents before buying a condominium to ensure that pets are permitted. Those who already live in a condominium who want to get a pet should also be checking the condominium documents before getting a pet. Likewise, those who feel that pets do not belong in condominiums should specifically look to purchase a condominium where pets are prohibited in the condominium’s declaration.

Sounds quite simple. However, things are not always as simple as they may seem on the surface.

In a recent case in south Florida, a unit owner and her mother had lived in a no-pet condominium for some time. They subsequently obtained a German Shepherd puppy to be a service dog for the 90-year-old mother, who was frail, blind and hard of hearing. This caused a major kerfuffle with the other owners in the condominium, who harassed the owner for breaking the condominium’s no-pet policy. Some owners refused to ride in the elevator with the dog. The condo association claimed that the dog was aggressive and asked the owner to provide a certificate to prove that the dog was a qualified service dog, even though there was no law that requires a service animal to be trained or certified. It was claimed that some owners specifically bought into that building because it was a no-pet building.

As a result, the unit owner, her mother and the dog moved out and then commenced a lawsuit against the condominium association on the basis that they were harassed and discriminated against. They wanted to ensure that others would not be treated in the same fashion.

Here in Ontario, even if a condominium declaration prohibits pets, service animals (which are also sometimes referred to as therapy animals) will be permitted for residents with a disability, as the Ontario Human Rights Code will prevail over the condominium documentation. If a resident claims that he or she has a disability that requires a service animal to live in the unit, the Corporation can request medical information/documentation to substantiate the disability. If the disability is not a permanent disability, then depending on the circumstances, the Board may request this medical documentation on an annual basis. Even though a service animal may be permitted to accommodate a particular resident, the no-pet restriction in the declaration continues to be valid. It just will not be enforced against the owner who has substantiated that he/she has a disability that requires a service animal and only for so long as this continues to be the case. As cases of this nature must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, the corporation’s legal counsel should be consulted at the outset.

In Ontario, there is no requirement that service animals need to be certified and there is no governmental agency or organization that certifies an animal as a service animal. While most people are familiar with service dogs for visually-impaired persons, there are other animals that may be a service animal and there may be other medical conditions where a service animal is required.

Hopefully, if a corporation deals with the matter properly, it won’t find itself facing a lawsuit or complaint to the Human Rights Commission from  a disabled resident who has an animal in the unit, or a compliance application by an owner seeking to enforce a no-pet provision in the declaration.