Pet owners vs the board

In a legal showdown between the board and a pet owner, the odds are on the board's side as the courts are reluctant to interfere with a condo's rules unless they are unreasonable or violate the Act.

Whenever an owner gets a letter from the manager or board stating that they are in violation of a condo's rules or declaration, I strongly advise the owner to immediately consult with a lawyer who is experienced in condominium law.

Rules that prohibit noisy dogs, not allowing dogs to use the main entrance, stating that dogs in the common areas must be on a leash and weight restrictions are reasonable.

Some boards pass unreasonable rules. They know that these rules may not withstand a court challenge but they may feel that no owner will be willing to spend the time and money fighting them in court.

An example of an unreasonable rule may be one that says no dog's paws may touch the common elements so that owners must take their dogs in and out of the hallways, elevators and lobby in a cart or wagon may or not be considered reasonable. A rule that bans dogs while the declaration allows dogs is definitely unreasonable.

Common owner responses
When told that they must get rid of their pet, some owners deny that there is a problem. They may claim that a neighbour or the board have a personal vendetta against them.

They may circulate a petition among the owners to have a rule or the declaration changed. With such an emotional issue as pet ownership, they may find some support and make pet ownership a political issue.

Compliance order
If an owner is violating the condo's pet restrictions or rules, the corporation may ask the courts for a compliance order.

The courts will usually will comply but may use its discretion not to enforce the declaration or the rules if there was a delay in enforcement, selective enforcement or if the condo has ignored the issue for some time.

The courts may decide that the rule is reasonable but the enforcement
was not.

When enforcement of the declaration or the rules is required, the board needs to inform the owner and if it is a rental unit, they need to inform both the tenant and the unit owner.

First warning letter
This letter comes from the property manager. It describes the breach and requires the unit owner to rectify the problem or when required, to remove the animal from the property within two weeks.

Second warning letter
This letter, from the property manager, states that the owner has failed to rectify the breach. The letter states that the owner has a final opportunity to rectify the problem or when required, to remove the animal from the property within a stated time period.

If the breach is not rectified by the end of the given time period, the corporation may seek legal advise and the costs incurred will be born by the unit owner in accordance with the indemnification provisions in the corporation's declaration.

If the owner has not done so by now, it is time that he or she seeks legal advice from an experienced condominium lawyer. The threat of occurring legal costs is real and it gets very expensive very quickly.

Final warning letter
If the owner, or tenant, has not complied within the time limits stated in the second warning letter, the corporation lawyer may send the final warning letter.

This letter will state the breach and demand immediate compliance. The letter will state that failure to do so will result in the corporation seeking relief from the courts and may give an estimate of the costs involved.

The letter should state that all the corporation's costs will be borne by the unit owner by registering a lien against the unit title.

The indemnification provisions in the declaration must allow this. Otherwise, the corporation may or may not be allowed to add the legal charges to the unit's common element fees. (It is best to check with an experienced condo lawyer.)

Finally the letter often includes a bill for several hundred dollars, the legal costs of preparing the letter.

Mediation and Arbitration
Most pet compliance issues, except for an application to remove a dangerous animal or a breach of the Act, need to go through the mediation and arbitration process before the corporation can proceed to Superior Court.

Mediation does not work well with such emotional issues as pets when the owner is in denial or demands that the corporation change the declaration or its rules.

Seeking a compliance order
If the unit owner is still in breach, the corporation can apply to Superior Court for an compliance order and will also ask the court for payment of damages and all legal costs. The court can also terminate a lease.

The corporation's legal costs can add up to $20,000 or more.

Court cases
Read court cases involving pet disputes in the chapter on Court Cases.

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