It was recently reported in the media that a Vancouver woman is fighting her strata association to keep her dog, Ember, which she claims is an emotional support animal. The owner, who has suffered from mental health afflictions since childhood says that she was able to stop taking medication after adopting Ember. She provided a doctor’s letter confirming this.
The strata association allows 2 dogs per unit. As the owner has two other dogs, the adoption of Ember caused her to exceed this limit. Ember was not trained or certified to be a service dog or emotional support animal. In 2016 British Columbia enacted the Guide Dog and Service Dog Act. This legislation provides for certification of these animals and makes it an offence to deny access or accommodation to certified dogs. The owner says that she intends to have Ember certified as a service dog. Meanwhile, she has filed a complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal.
In Ontario, there is no legislation that provides for certification of service or emotional support animals and there is no requirement that such animals need to be certified. Even if a condominium declaration prohibits pets or restricts the size or number of pets, service animals and emotional support 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 or emotional support animal to live in the unit, the Corporation can request medical information and 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 or emotional support animal may be permitted to accommodate a particular resident, the pet restrictions in the declaration continue to be valid. They just will not be enforced against the owner who has substantiated that he/she has a disability that requires a service or emotional animal and only for so long as this continues to be the case.
While most people are familiar with service dogs for visually-impaired persons, there are other animals that may be a service or emotional support animal and there are a myriad of disabilities and accommodation requests that a condominium corporation could face. More and more condominium corporations are receiving accommodation requests from disabled residents. Requests to accommodate emotional support animals that assist owners with mental health issues are increasing. A study conducted in 2015 at the University of California concluded that the number of assistance dogs had increased dramatically in the previous decade, primarily due to an increase in the use of emotional support animals.
Regardless of the nature of the disability and the accommodation request, every situation is unique and must be carefully considered by the condominium board to ensure that the corporation complies with the Human Rights Code. As requests to accommodate service dogs and emotional support animals must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, the corporation’s legal counsel should be consulted at the outset. 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 pet restrictions in the declaration.