It was recently reported in the media that a unit owner was asked to remove a mezuzah attached to the unit’s exterior door-frame as it was in contravention of the condominium rules, which prohibited owners and residents from affixing, hanging or displaying anything on the doors or door-frames of the units.
It is common practice among most members of the Jewish faith to affix to the door frame of their home a small ritual item known as a mezuzah, which contains biblical verses written on parchment. This ritual is required as a religious obligation under Jewish religious law.
While condominium corporations are entitled to enact reasonable rules to promote the safety, security and welfare of the owners and the property and assets of the corporation or to prevent unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of the common elements, units or assets of the corporation, the rules and their enforcement cannot breach the Ontario Human Rights Code.
The Ontario Human Rights Code requires reasonable accommodation to a person’s religious beliefs when they conflict with another requirement or practice. This means that a rule can remain as a valid rule – however the rule should not be enforced against an owner or resident if the enforcement will result in an infringement of the individual’s personal religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court of Canada determined in 2004 that sincere personal religious beliefs override the terms of a condominium declaration and consequently unit owners were allowed to erect a temporary ritual hut on their balconies (known as a Sukkah) despite the provisions of the declaration. That decision made it clear that condominium corporations need to take religious beliefs and practices into account with enforcement matters.
In the mezuzah case noted above, after a letter on behalf of the unit owner was sent to the condominium board of directors and management explaining the significance of the placement of the mezuzah on the exterior door of Jewish homes, the condominium corporation sent a letter of apology to the owner and the mezuzah was allowed to remain.
In another case reported in the media a unit owner in Pennsylvania sued his condominium association alleging discrimination after he was asked to remove a toran, a Hindu religious symbol from the exterior of his unit doorway. The condominium association had enacted a policy that prohibited religious symbols/decorations to be displayed except during holidays. Interestingly, however, the placement of a mezuzah on the exterior door-frame was an exception to that policy. As the condominium association had accommodated Jewish owners by permitting the mezuzah, it is not surprising that the owner felt that he was being discriminated against on the basis of his religion.
As the Canadian population has become more diverse with people practicing many different religions, condominium boards and management may encounter religious practices and symbols with which they are not familiar. Furthermore, within each religion the extent to which religious practices are adhered to will vary depending on the individual’s personal religious beliefs. If an owner or resident is displaying a religious symbol or engaging in a religious practice that is in contravention of the condominium documents, corporations should be consulting with legal counsel to determine the extent, if any, to which the corporation is required to accommodate the individual.