A national survey from Narrative Research, conducted in November 2021, found about three million pets joined Canadian homes during the pandemic, with Ontario at the top of that list. Ontarian pet owners are also most likely to own multiple pets, the majority being dogs and cats.
Many condominium corporations that allow pets to varying degrees may see more four-legged friends roaming around, and there are several common issues residents will likely have to contend with. New cases are also highlighting how a condo can quickly go from pet-friendly to pet-fearing.
Residents keeping prohibited pets/animals in their units
A condo corporation’s governing documents (declaration, by-laws and rules) dictate what is allowed in a condo. Some corporations prohibit certain types of pets and some prohibit pets altogether. Condo corporations will also sometimes limit the number of pets a unit can have.
Despite these prohibitions, some residents may still require a pet because the pet may be a service animal or an emotional support animal. A service animal, such as a guide dog, is an animal who is extensively trained to help a person with some type of physical disability or limitation. Service animals usually have a vest that they wear while “on duty.” On the other hand, an emotional support animal is an animal that provides emotional support to a person who needs it, such as a dog who alleviates a person’s psychological disability such as depression or anxiety. Emotional support animals do not usually wear a vest.
When an individual requires a service animal or an emotional support animal on the basis of a disability, he/she can submit a request to their condo corporation and ask to be exempt from the corporation’s rules in relation to pets. In reviewing the individual’s request for exemption, the condo will usually require medical evidence confirming the disability and the need for the service animal/emotional support animal.
It is important to note that even when an exemption is granted, the condo can still impose reasonable conditions upon the pet to ensure that its presence in the building does not harm others or cause any nuisance to others.
Pets or animals causing a noise/nuisance for other owners/residents
Even if a condo corporation allows residents to have a pet or pets, the pets are still subject to specific rules about their conduct. The governing documents will usually state that pets are not permitted to litter or destroy common elements (for example, pets cannot urinate or defecate on common elements) or create noise/odours that negatively affect other residents.
Dangerous or illegal pets or animals residing in a unit
Some corporations have provisions in their governing documents banning certain types of pets. A condo may prohibit snakes, reptiles and/or certain breeds of dogs from its premises.
In other cases, certain pets that are otherwise permitted can become dangerous due to their behaviour. In a recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision, MTCC 1260 v. Singh et. al., 2022 ONSC 1606, a unit’s tenants let their two dogs (who were either Pitbulls or American bulldogs) roam around the building’s corridors unsupervised and unleashed. There were numerous complaints about the dogs’ behaviour.
On one occasion, one of the dogs attacked and bit another resident and the resident’s dog. The City of Toronto issued a Dangerous Dog Order against one of the dogs. Among other things, the City order required the dog to be muzzled at all times when in the common areas of the building. The tenants did not comply.
In January 2022, the condo obtained a court order requiring the tenants to remove the dogs from the unit and the building. The dogs were initially removed but by early March 2022, the condo and the unit owner had evidence that dogs were still in the unit. The court ultimately made an order evicting the tenants from the unit.
Normally, eviction applications must be heard by the landlord and tenant tribunal, which has the jurisdiction to hear most tenant-related disputes, including applications for eviction. However, the Condominium Act, 1998 allows a court to terminate a tenancy if the tenants have breached a court’s compliance order.
Still, evictions by courts for condo compliance matters are extremely rare. Normally, tenants either comply or move out before further proceedings are necessary. In this case, however, the tenants’ breaches were ongoing. The court found that the tenants had repeatedly breached the court’s order and were “ungovernable”. An eviction was the only reasonable remedy. The condo eventually had the tenants evicted and also received full indemnity costs of $48,635.10 against the owner and tenants.
One of the major takeaways from this case is that owners should be careful with the tenants they choose to occupy their unit. In this case, the tenants caused the problems and despite the owner’s cooperation, the owner was held liable for all legal costs incurred by the condo to remove the tenants from the unit.
How can pet disputes can be handled/litigated by a condominium corporation?
Depending on the condo corporation’s governing documents, some corporations have no choice but to abide by the enforcement system stipulated in their documents. The rules may obligate the corporation to take the following steps: send a warning letter, provide the resident/owner with two weeks to correct the behaviour and if the behaviour is not corrected, legal counsel is to be involved.
For those corporations where the enforcement mechanism is not stipulated in the governing documents, they have more liberty to adjust their response to the situation at hand.
Some situations are so serious that warning letters from the corporation will not be necessary and a letter from legal counsel is appropriate for the first step (for instance: if a dog has bitten a resident). If a legal letter is sent, and the situation still does not resolve, then the condo must decide if it wants to engage in further litigation. For litigation, the condo can either commence a Condominium Authority Tribunal (CAT) application or a Superior Court of Ontario application.
Due to the recent amendments to the Condominium Act, 1998, all disputes in relation to pets/animals and nuisance are now within the jurisdiction of the CAT. Accordingly, a condo corporation must commence a CAT application for all pet-related issues. The only way in which a condo can move its application out of the CAT is if section 117 (1) of the Condominium Act, 1998 is engaged. Section 117(1) of the Condominium Act, 1998 states:
“No person shall, through an act or omission, cause a condition to exist or an activity to take place in a unit, the common elements or the assets, if any, of the corporation if the condition or the activity, as the case may be, is likely to damage the property or the assets or to cause an injury or an illness to an individual”.
If a condition in accordance with this section exists, an application can be brought to the Superior Court of Ontario to deal with the pet/animal issue. For the MTCC 1260 v. Singh et. al. case, the Superior Court agreed to hear the matter (as opposed to deferring to the CAT) because there were allegations that the tenants’ behaviour created a danger to others, contrary to section 117(1) of the Condominium Act, 1998. For the same reason, the court also agreed to hear both the initial and the follow up hearings on an urgent basis. The entire process took about three months to complete.
Every situation is different. If your condo corporation has a pet issue, please consult your legal counsel for advice.
Inderpreet Suri is an associate at Shibley Righton LLP where she works exclusively with the condominium law group. She articled with the firm from 2017-2018 and was called to the Bar in 2018. Throughout her time at Shibley Righton, Inderpreet has assisted condominium corporations with various litigation matters that involve a variety of different legal issues. She has also assisted individual unit owners and residents in situations where they are being unfairly oppressed or disregarded by their condo corporation.