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Part of the Family

Understanding the details of condo pet restrictions can avoid the emergence of issues; understanding why such restrictions are in place can help resolve problems.

One of the worst things that a pet owner can do before buying or renting a condominium unit is make assumptions about pet restrictions within the community. Many condominium residents have run into issues because they did not realize that such restrictions exist, or understand just how specific such restrictions could be. Even a “pet friendly” condo may have specific limits or expectations of pets within the community that do not work for your particular circumstance (i.e. a one dog rule if you are a two dog family).

As a mediator, I often hear questions about the point of mediating disputes that pertain to the alleged violation of a pet restriction. I am told that the matter simply comes down to whether the pet stays or goes and a process that does not guarantee a decision being imposed one way or the other does little to resolve the problem.

However, I also appreciate how a standard form of compliance letter can escalate a problem. Typically, such letters tell someone that they are doing something wrong, demand that they perform a specific action and expect money to reimburse the condominium corporation for the cost of issuing the letter. Recipients of these letters can feel bullied and intimidated. Emotions arise which are especially difficult to navigate when one feels that their pet - a member of their family - is under attack.

While a standard form of compliance letter may recite the pet restrictions that are in place in a given community, mediation provides the opportunity for parties to understand why such restrictions are in place. This can shed light on resolution options which otherwise would not be considered. Take the example of a condominium community that requires dogs to be carried upon the common elements. Why does such a restriction apply? If it is to help gauge the size of dog that is felt to be appropriate for the community, a bodybuilder resident able to haul a large dog over his/her shoulder may be missing the point. If it is to help keep the lobby and hallways clean, someone who may physically struggle to lift their small dog may be able to consider helpful options such as a doggy stroller. How about if the restriction exists for the safety of the community, to prevent the chance of mishaps in the interest of keeping both residents and pets safe and sound? Liability concerns about dog bites upon common elements have received attention of late and a variety of rather disturbing videos can be found on-line surrounding dog leashes getting caught in elevator doors. The “why” behind a restriction may make a great deal of sense in the spirit of community and pave the way for resolution options to come to light in respect of a particular problem.

In addition to better understanding why certain pet restrictions are in place, mediation allows for a greater understanding of the perspective of the parties. A violating resident, for example, may understand that they cannot keep their pet in the community but need some time to find a new place to move to. An “exit plan” is certainly something that can be mediated, along with an appreciation and accommodation of others who may have specifically sought out a pet-free community due to allergies. Understanding both the why behind restrictions and the perspective of all involved in a pet problem can be a better approach than a finger wagging letter outlining a set of demands which leaves the recipient feeling uncared for.

Of the disputes that most typically arise in the condominium community environment, there are few that can be as emotionally challenging as one that threatens a member of the family. Appreciating this can go a long way in ensuring that any such issues that emerge are addressed with empathy, cost effectively and in a manner that is best for all involved.

This picture was originally taken and tweeted by @condomediator on July 12, 2014There is also a great deal that a condominium community can do to avoid the emergence of pet-related conflict in the first place. Rather than focusing efforts on identifying and punishing those who do not “stoop and scoop” after their dogs, condos can actively encourage compliance with such measures as providing bags and receptacles to residents for ease of access. A condominium that has recurring issues with dogs barking at unit doors whenever they are alone can circulate tips or best practice suggestions in newsletters, on-line community forums and notices to encourage pet owners to leave their animals alone in a part of the unit where they are less likely to overhear noises prompting them to bark.

Ideally, a pet owner understands before joining a condominium community the restrictions that exist and how they can comply with them.  Realistically, even the most informed and well-intended pet owners run into issues from time to time in the condominium environment. In such instances, mediation can do a great deal to help. 

By Marc Bhalla - Summer 2014
Hons. B.A., Q. Med. - Mediator and Senior Clerk

Ext:  811
Email:  mbhalla@elia.org 
Toll-Free:  1-866-446-0811  
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All of the information contained in this article is of a general nature for informational purposes only, and is not intended to represent the definitive opinion of the firm of Elia Associates on any particular matter. Although every effort is made to ensure that the information contained in this newsletter is accurate and up-to-date, the reader should not act upon it without obtaining appropriate professional advice and assistance.

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