This is the story of a $47,000 dog named Peaches and its troubled stay in a Barrie condominium.
It all began back in July, 2014, when Dianna Labranche and her dog moved into a condominium unit owned by her common-law partner, Joseph Dominelli. The unit is part of Simcoe Condominium Corporation No. 89 which consists of 57 suites located in three separate buildings.
One of the condominium’s rules restricts the size of a resident’s dog or cat to 25 pounds or less.
Dominelli and Labranche were aware of the 25-pound restriction when the dog moved into the unit. Shortly after the approximately 40-pound pooch arrived, the property manager sent a letter advising that Peaches — a golden retriever/Australian shepherd mixed breed — had to leave because it exceeded the permitted weight limit and was in breach of the rules.
After a series of exchanges with the property manager, the unit’s occupants took the position that Peaches was a service and therapy dog. Labranche provided a doctor’s letter stating that the dog helped her deal with “stress and past abuse.”
Labranche requested an accommodation under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Typically, the Code trumps the rules in a condominium project if it can be proven that the applicant has a need related to his or her disability.
Since the doctor’s letter was vague about her specific disability, the condominium board denied Labranche’s request for an accommodation. They again demanded that the dog be removed from the building.
Ultimately the condominium corporation took Dominelli and Labranche to court seeking an order that the dog be permanently removed from the unit. The case was heard by Justice Elizabeth Quinlan in April and her decision was released in June.
The judge found that the doctor’s letter was insufficiently detailed to establish that Labranche had a disability entitling her to claim a duty of accommodation from the condominium. As well, even if the evidence showed she had a disability, Labranche would not have been prohibited from having a service dog, but only from having one heavier than 25 pounds.
The judge noted that stress is not a disability recognized by the Human Rights Code and that the condominium had not discriminated against Labranche. It had requested further objective information about her medical condition, and the request was refused.
After a two-day court hearing, the judge ordered that Peaches had to be removed from the building.
In a subsequent ruling released last month, the judge awarded the condominium corporation a whopping $47,000 in court costs which can be collected by way of a lien against Dominelli’s unit. On top of that, Dominelli and Labranche had to pay their own lawyers and those costs could easily have doubled the bill.
The lesson which emerges from this case is that owners who request a duty of accommodation from their condominium should make sure that they have a disability recognized by the Human Rights Code.
As well, getting into a legal fight with a condominium corporation can be a very risky and expensive undertaking.