February 14th, 2022 by Emily Zarychta, Human Rights Clinic Advocate
This blog post is a follow-up to our July 13, 2020 post: No-Pet Clauses and Human Rights. Our Clinic continues to receive many questions about this issue, and there have been some developments in the law since our last post.
In a recent case, the BC Human Rights Tribunal explained what kind of medical information someone will need to provide when requesting permission to have an emotional support dog in their home.[i]
In the case, the strata had a no-pet rule. The complainant requested permission from his strata to have an emotional support dog. He provided a doctor’s note in support of his request. The note said “…I feel that an emotional support animal would greatly improve [the complainant’s] chances of fully managing the symptoms of this illness. I therefore completely support his request to have a full‐time working dog in the home.”
The strata council asked the complainant for more information about his disabilities. They also asked for information about how a dog would support him with those disabilities. The complainant refused to provide any additional medical information. He said the doctor’s note he had already provided should be enough. The strata disagreed. After some back-and-forth, the strata refused the complainant’s request for an exemption from the no-pets bylaw.
The complainant filed a human rights complaint. He alleged the strata discriminated against him by refusing his request for permission for an emotional support dog. This, he said, was a failure by the strata to accommodate his disabilities.
After filing the complaint, he gave the strata a second note from his doctor which said: “[The complainant] suffers from severe generalized anxiety disorder and depression. He also has chronic pain from severe shoulder arthritis. Despite optimal medical treatment he continues to experience symptoms. I have recommended that he consider an emotional support animal to help alleviate the persistent symptoms that remain. These symptoms include anxiety, pain, low mood, and low motivation.”
The Tribunal dismissed the complaint. It found that the complainant had not provided the strata with enough medical information to demonstrate that the no-pets bylaw negatively impacted him because of his disability. The Tribunal said that the two doctor’s notes did not provide sufficient detail about his disability or how having a dog would help him with his disability-related needs.
People who are asking for accommodations regarding emotional support dogs will need good medical information in support of their request. The Tribunal in this case said a brief doctor’s note on a prescription pad may not be enough, and a full medical report may be required in some cases.[ii]
The Tribunal said that a resident seeking permission to have an emotional support animal should provide medical information that includes:
- The severity of their medical condition;
- How the condition affects their functioning; and
- How having the animal would actually beneficially impact their condition. This is the most important part.
The Tribunal also said that a strata that receives a request like this should:
- Address the request promptly and take it seriously.
- Request medical information that is related to the request for accommodation, if necessary. A strata is not entitled to any more information than is strictly necessary for this purpose. If the strata requests further medical reports, it should be at the strata’s expense.
- Restrict access to a person’s medical information to only those individuals who are involved in the accommodation process and who need to understand the underlying medical information. The strata council should keep medical information confidential from the general membership of the strata.
- Recognize that it cannot rely on a vote of its membership to deny an accommodation.
Stratas, co-ops, and landlords have a duty to accommodate tenants with disabilities, to the point of undue hardship. Housing providers can learn more about their obligations under BC’s Human Rights Code by attending a workshop on these topics offered by the BC Human Rights Clinic. Learn more about our education workshops here.
[i] Lylack v. The Owners, Strata Plan Number LMS1755 and others, 2022 BCHRT 16.
[ii] At para. 52.