Noce: Emotional support for pets must be considered on an individual case

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Questions: Our condo bylaws allow owners to have either one dog or one cat in their units. An owner cannot have two dogs or two cats or one dog and one cat. They have to choose. One owner in our building has one dog and two cats, which exceeds the maximum of one pet as outlined in our bylaws. The owner has provided the board with a letter from their doctor saying that their three pets are needed for emotional support. Is this true? What can we do? Help!

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Answer: The duty to accommodate comes up in the context of human rights laws and condominium corporations which are subject to human rights legislation. In Alberta, the law is called the Alberta Human Rights Act.

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If a case for discrimination has been established, the discriminating party bears the responsibility to take all reasonable steps to accommodate, up to the point where it would incur undue hardship. In other words, if the owner can show discrimination, the condominium corporation must take all reasonable steps to accommodate the owner, up to the point where it would incur undue hardship.

Generally, for a condominium corporation to engage in any duty to accommodate, there must be some potential for discrimination. Typically, cases involving animals such as service dogs or therapy pets come up in a situation of physical or mental disabilities. Because “physical” and “mental” disabilities are defined in legal terms under the AHRA, I would have to review the letter of the owner’s doctor to determine if the owner fits into one of those categories.

To establish discrimination, the owner must show that they have a disability or some other protected characteristic. Even if we accept that the doctor’s letter establishes that the owner has a disability within the meaning of the AHRA, the owner must still show discrimination. Without that, the additional pets would be in violation of the condominium corporation’s bylaws.

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Helpful Hints: Human rights issues are not easy to address. Accommodation on human rights grounds is a very specific process that turns on an individual’s particular circumstances. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Unlike a service dog, there are no legal qualifications for therapy/emotional support animals in Alberta.

Listening to the owner’s needs and working with them to create an accommodation plan is always the best practice in these types of disputes. There is always a risk with claims of human rights violations and in particular cases of emotional support animals. Tread carefully and get legal advice right away.

Roberto Noce, KC is a partner with Miller Thomson LLP in both the Edmonton and Calgary offices. He welcomes your questions at [email protected]. Answers are not intended as legal opinions; readers are cautioned not to act on the information provided without seeking legal advice in their unique circumstances. Follow Noce on Twitter at @RobertNoce.

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