A federal judge in Florida has ruled that it is “wrong” and “absurd” for a Florida condominium association to initiate legal proceedings against a disabled resident after her service dog moved into her condo unit. The resident was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, uses a wheelchair and has limited use of her arms and hands. She requires her dog to help pick things up, open and close doors and retrieve items from countertops. The service dog can recognize 40 separate commands and is said to have made the resident’s life “so much better”.
The Davie’s Pine Island Ridge condo association prohibits pets over 20 pounds and took the resident to court on the basis that she did not provide proper documentation for her service dog. The resident counter-claimed on the grounds that the condo board’s demands violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) based on her disability and noted that she “couldn’t believe how hard [the condo board] were making it”. The judge agreed with the resident and found that the resident had a “legitimate need for a service dog as an accommodation under the FHA” and that “it is obvious that the service dog would help her”.
So, what is the takeaway for condo corporations in Ontario? Somewhat similar to the FHA, Section 2 of the Ontario Human Rights Code states that every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of disability. Once it is established that an individual suffers from a disability, the Corporation has a duty to accommodate short of undue hardship. The undue hardship threshold is difficult to meet, particularly for larger condo corporations with resources at its disposal. Although the abovementioned case happened in Florida, the main principles from this case can be useful for condo corporations in Ontario when analyzing a person’s request for accommodation. Condo corporations should be mindful that in some instances, where the resident’s need for accommodation is clearly evident, proof of the disability (and strict adherence to the rules) may not be required.
Special thanks to Haley Wong who assisted with the preparation of this article.