It is common knowledge that condominium corporations have a duty to suspend enforcement of pet prohibitions in the declaration or rules to accommodate the disability-related needs of an owner or tenant. This means that an owner or tenant may be permitted to keep an animal, often a dog, to assist with a disability-related need such as, for example, a mental disability. Such animals are often colloquially referred to as “service animals” or “service dogs.” In fact, the term “service animal” or “service dogs” has become so widespread that it is often assumed that there is some agency or official organization that recognizes pets or dogs as “service animals” or “service dogs.”
There is, in fact, no centralized, recognized registry in Ontario for “service animals” or “service dogs.” There is, in fact, no piece of legislation or other law that designates, or sets critera for, “service animals” or “service dogs.”
There are websites that hold themselves out as Canadian “service animal registries or “service dog registries.” These sites suggest that you can qualify your dog as a service dog simply by registering with the site. A closer at some of these sites reveals that the only thing it takes to register is a few clicks of a mouse and a credit card payment. No medical documentation is required. In return, the “registry” might forward a card or harness.
There is no such thing as a “service animal” or “service dog” under any current piece of Ontario legislation. The term “guide dog” appears in four pieces of legislation (the Blind Person Rights Act, the Human Rights Code, The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act). Under the Blind Person Rights Act there are regulations with respect to training guide dogs to assist people who are blind. Under the other pieces of legislation, the term “guide dog” is used in defining a disability such that a person is considered to have a disability if, among other things, the person has a “…physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal…”
This does not mean that the law does not recognize that a person might have a disability-related need to keep a pet other than physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal. For example, a person may need to keep a dog to assist with a mental disability. But, in so far as condominium corporations are concerned, in order to suspend enforcement of the declaration or rules, the need for such an animal must be substantiated with appropriate medical documentation. A harness or card obtained from a website does not qualify a dog (or other pet) as a service dog (or service animal).
When a condominium corporation receives a request from an owner or tenant to keep a dog, or other animal on the property in relation to a disability related need and there is a prohibition in the declaration or rules against dogs or other pets, the condo is entitled to ask for medical documentation. In a recent case, Simcoe Condominium Corp. No. 89 v. Dominelli, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice set out the kind of medical documentation required:
[A person claiming to have a disability] must establish that [they have] a disability within the meaning of the Code and that a requirement imposed by the [condominium corporation] … adversely affects her because of her disability.
…To establish a “mental disability”, a diagnosis of some recognized mental disability, or at least a “working diagnosis or articulation of clinically-significant symptoms” that has “specificity and substance” is required
Condos should always be aware of their duties to accommodate people with disabilities, even where such accommodation requires a suspension of the enforcement of the declaration or the rules. But it is important to ensure that there are sufficent grounds to do so.