Pet restriction bylaws in strata corporations – legitimacy and exceptions

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April 12th, 2021
It is common for strata corporations in British Columbia to have bylaws that restrict the number and/or type of pets that are permitted to live in a strata unit.  Further, some strata corporations have outright prohibitions when it comes to pets.  Are these provisions legitimate?

The Strata Property Act (the “SPA”) – the legislation governing strata living in British Columbia – requires a strata corporation to have bylaws, which are provisions governing, among other matters, the management and use of strata lots and common property.  Strata corporations have wide scope when it comes to drafting and implementing bylaws – however, a strata corporation does not have unlimited scope with respect to same.  One of the main limitations is that bylaws cannot infringe any legislation, such as the Human Rights Code.  There are also specific restrictions in the SPA when it comes to pet-related bylaws.  These include the following, under section 123 of the SPA:

·If an owner, tenant, or occupant has a pet living with them in the strata unit at a time when the strata corporation does not have a pet restriction bylaw, but the strata corporation later passes a pet restriction bylaw prohibiting that pet, the pet may continue to live in the strata unit until its passing despite the newly-imposed restriction.  In other words, the strata corporation cannot pass a pet restriction bylaw and enforce same with respect to pets that have lived and are living in a strata unit before that bylaw has come into force.  Thus, pre-existing pets are ‘grandfathered’, and can remain in a strata unit until their passing.  However, any pets which are acquired following the passing of such a bylaw must comply with the bylaw.

·Guide dogs and service dogs, as defined under the Guide Dog and Service Dog Act, are exempt from pet restriction bylaws.

If the above legislative exceptions do not apply to you and your pet(s), do not fret – there may be court and/or tribunal-crafted exceptions to the general rule permitting wide latitude with respect to pet restriction bylaws.  For example, in a recent decision, N.S.S. v. The Owners, Strata Plan ABC XXXX, 2019 BCCRT 696, the Civil Resolution Tribunal (the “Tribunal”) permitted an owner to keep two dogs in their strata lot despite the fact that the strata corporation had a pre-existing bylaw permitting only one dog per strata lot.  The owner already had one dog in their strata lot when their partner moved in, who brought a second dog.  The strata corporation then imposed fines on the owner for breach of the one-dog bylaw.  The owner successfully argued that while the strata corporation indeed had a two-dog limit in its bylaws, it did not strictly enforce this bylaw by seeking fines from other infringing owners, but rather provided exemptions to them.  The Tribunal found that the owner had a reasonable expectation that the strata corporation would apply similar criteria in considering whether an exemption would apply to them, and concluded that the owner was allowed to keep the two dogs in their strata lot without penalty or fine (at least until one of the dogs passed away or permanently left the strata unit, at which point the bylaw would again be enforceable against the owner).  In sum, this decision speaks to the fact that if a strata corporation provides an exemption to one owner with respect to a pet restriction bylaw, other owners can reasonably expect that the same exemption criteria will be applied to them.  Thus, the strata corporation must act in a neutral, fair, and unbiased fashion. 

This article does not cover all exceptions or restrictions related to pet bylaws.  If you live in a strata arrangement and have further questions about your pet situation, please contact Brandon Harrison or any of the lawyers in the strata property practice group at Pettit & Company to arrange for a consultation.