What you need to know about pets in condos

avoid legal problems from pets in condos

According to a 2016 nation-wide survey, almost 41% of Canadian households include at least one dog and around 37% at least one cat.  Overall, there are at least 8.8 million cats considered household pets and 7.6 million dogs.

Contrast these statistics with the growing popularity of condos as permanent living arrangements and you can see how the issue of pets in condos becomes hairy (ok, this will be the one and only pet joke throughout this article).  After all, it was 41% of households that have pets.  The other 59% might not have the same passion for companion animals you do.

In this article, we’ll go over the most frequently asked questions and explore the legal protections that currently exist in the country’s three major condo markets.

Why can a condo corporation make rules limiting pets in my household if I own the condominium?

Condo and strata corporations exist to promote and enforce rules that will ensure the longevity of the development as well as promote a safe and enjoyable living arrangement for all residents.

Condo boards must also ensure that the common elements (ie hallways, entrances, recreation rooms) are accessible and enjoyable by all the residents of the development.

So what does this have to do with what happens inside the walls of your condo?

This is best explained with an example:

If a condo development is a wood construction, noise considerations from one floor to another must taken into account.

This is where you’ll see rules and regulations that dictate the types of flooring materials that can and can’t be used – to limit the propagation of sound from the top to the bottom unit.  In this spirit, the condo corporation may put in place a limitation on the weight of the animals allowed in the development.

But what about other construction types where noise isn’t an issue?  Like a concrete and glass building or a community of free-standing units?

In this case, rules and regulations may be put in place to limit the damage to common elements.  Pet claws may damage the carpet in the hallways or dog urine on grass or plant beds may mean higher landscaping expenses.

Do condo corporations have the authority to limit pets in condos?

Yes, they do.  However, anything the corporation wishes to enforce must be part of the declaration or be a rule.

Your grumpy board member at the end of the hallway can’t suddenly make up a rule limiting your ownership of a pet (we’ll go over rules voted in after you were allowed to own a pet later).

Like all rules and regulations, these either have to be voted in or be part of the initial condo declaration.

Condo corporations must still respect provincial and federal laws.  This means that anything they implement must be reasonable and proportional.  For example, your condo corporation wouldn’t be able to enforce a pet ban on a guide dog given that this would be a clear violation of human rights for blind people.

As for rules or by-laws passed after the declaration was put in place, a grandfather clause will normally be included for existing pet owners.  It wouldn’t be reasonable for a long-time pet owner to have to relinquish his or her loved one because a new rule is passed.

What about barking dogs in a condo?

Condo rules typically state that no one unit can create undue noise because it prevents other residents from peacefully enjoying their living area and common areas.

A continuously barking dog counts as such a noise disturbance.

However, a barking dog situation doesn’t fall under a pet rule but a noise one.  The condo corporation would have to give warnings to the owners to cease the noise disturbance rather than ask for the dog to be removed.  It therefore becomes the responsibility of the pet owner to deal with the noise problem.

Should a barking dog continue to disturb neighbors and no action is taken by the owner, the dog could be deemed a nuisance animal and asked to be removed from the property.

Pet owners buying a condo

If you are already a pet owner and considering buying a condo, it’s especially critical to read the condo declaration and subsequent rules for any provisions relating to pets before making an offer.

As we’ll see below, there are instances where courts have ruled in favor of pet owners but these are under special circumstances.

For the majority of cases, if a provision is in place limiting pet ownership and a pet owner buys into that development, the pet owner will either have to relinquish the animal for adoption or find another living arrangement.

A few legal cases on this topic

Disclaimer: the following is not legal advice and is provided to add context to the topic of pets in condos.  If you are in doubt about your legal situation, contact a lawyer in your area immediately

Pets in condos in Ontario

There are a few court decisions that are of note in Ontario where the Condominium Act was challenged.

Perhaps the most relevant to most pet owners is the Staib case.  A tenant moved in with her cat despite being aware of the clear “no pet” provision in the declaration.  The Court found that the corporation hadn’t enforced the no pet policy in ten years despite being aware of the pet’s presence.

The judge concluded that the provision in the declaration, which absolutely prohibited any pet, was unenforceable for equitable reasons.  The judge noted the length of time the condo corporation had allowed the cat to remain, the age of the cat (it would be hard to get it adopted should the owner relinquish it) and the tenant’s attachment to the cat.

This case is noteworthy because it highlights that the declaration banning pets would have been upheld if the condo corporation would have acted sooner rather than later.

In other words: don’t try this at home!  If your condo corporation has the mechanism to ban pets, a judge would only consider striking it down under unique circumstances.

Hypothetically, if the condo corporation would have acted upon news of the pet 10 years earlier, the tenant would have had no recourse and would either have had to relinquish the cat or move out.

Another important case in Ontario is the York Condominium Corp No 382 vs Dvorchik.

In this case, a judge struck down a condo rule that prohibited dogs weighing more than 25 pounds.  The judge recognized that the corporation had enforced other pet-related rules (specifically on nuisance issues) but noted that this one would prohibit pets simply based on their size.

The judge considered the rule invalid because the corporation presented no evidence that large dogs unreasonably interfered with the use and enjoyment of the common elements.

If you’re a pet owner, so far so good right?

Not that fast.  The decision went to the Court of Appeal and was reversed.  The Court of Appeal held that a Court should not make opinions about a rule unless the rule is “clearly unreasonable or contrary to the legislative scheme”.

Pets in condos in Quebec

The governing principle of Quebec’s Declaration of Ownership Act implies that animals are allowed in a co-ownership.  This Declaration is made up of By-Laws of the Immovable.

According to the terms of article 1054 of the Civil Code of Quebec, the Immovable must “contain rules on the enjoyment, use and upkeep of private and common portions, and those on the operation and the administration of the co-ownership”.

In other words, the Declaration must clearly state the powers of the condo board.

On the other hand, article 1063 of the Civil Code of Quebec states that “each co-owner can use and freely use his private portion and the common portions as long as he respects the By-laws of the Immovable and does not interfere with the rights of the co-owners or the destination of the immovable”.

The last principle is article 1056 of the Civil Code of Quebec which stipulates that “each new restriction should be justified by the destination of the immovable, its characteristic or its location”.

So what does all this mean in normal language for the average condo buyer?

If the Declaration of Co-ownership was first written with a pet ban or restrictions on animals, you have little legal grounds on which to argue and would most likely have to conform to the rule.

Bottom line: read the Declaration before you make a firm offer on a property.

There exists some legal jurisprudence in Quebec with regards to banning pets in condominium projects.

A relevant case is Wilson vs Syndicate of co-owners of Le Champlain condominium where the assembly of co-owners had modified the By-Laws to ban mostly dogs.  Fish, caged birds and cats were allowed to remain.  The Court nullified the Bylaw because the ban was not justifiable.

In Miller vs Syndicate of co-owners “Les résidences Sébastropole centre” a clause stated that all animals declared a nuisance had to be removed within a certain deadline.  Dogs in the development had all been declared a nuisance and their masters went to Court.  The judge declared the Bylaw valid but asked the administrators to exercise their discretionary power.  The dogs were declared not to be nuisances and authorized the co-owners to keep them.

Pets in stratas in British Columbia

When most stratas are formed, they typically inspire the rules from the BC Government’s Standard Bylaw 3(4).  This standard typically limits pet ownership to:

  • a reasonable number of fish or other small aquarium animals
  • a reasonable number of small caged mammals
  • up to two caged birds
  • one dog or one cat

That said, once a strata is formed and according to the Strata Property Act, stratas are allowed to pass rules placing restrictions on pets.  These can range from a total pet bans, weight restrictions, number of pets and pets in common areas.

Like other provinces, rules limiting pets in stratas has been tested in court.  In BC, the most notable case is Strata Plan LMS 2629 v. Blondin  where the pet owner was in violation of a size and weight bylaw.  The Court ruled that breaching a bylaw can result in a permanent injunction enjoining and restraining a pet owner from bringing his or her pet back into the common property.

Wrapping this up

Having examined a few legal cases across three different provinces, the general conclusion is that if there are already bylaws or rules in place limiting pets, you need to respect them.

Claiming ignorance of the rules to the Court won’t get you out of troubles.

For condo buyers with pets looking to purchase resale, it’s critical that before any firm offer is put down you find out what the rules are for pets.

The team at SimpleCondoAdvice recommends that you always solicit the expertise of a Realtor when purchasing a condo.

It’s therefore critical that in your first meetings, you convey what your needs are and that these include bringing your pet(s) with you.  With their extensive contact networks, they may know know which developments have pet bans.