In a recent case, the Superior Court of Justice evicted condo tenants and their dangerous dogs. An interesting aspect of this case is that it was decided by the Superior Court of Justice and not:
- the Landlord and Tenant Board – despite involving tenants, or
- the Condo Authority Tribunal – despite involving a dispute over pets.
Survey on condo pets
Before you read on, consider completing our survey on condo pets:
- Is your condo pet-free
- What pet rules are in place at your condo?
- And a few more questions to help us get a sense of how pet-friendly is CondoLand.
This case involved a residential condo corporation, an owner leasing his unit (the “landlord”), tenants and their two dogs.
The facts of this case
Tenants living in a condo kept in their unit two American Pocket Bullies – also known by some as “Pit Bulls”. On December 4, 2021, one of these dogs who was let off leash viciously attacked and injured a resident of the building and her own dog, causing serious injuries to both.
The city ordered the dogs to be muzzled while in public but the tenants refused to comply. The dogs were later seen entering an elevator with no one holding the leash. Several videos showed one of the tenants having to use her body weight to restrain one of the dogs from lunging at residents, including children.
The landlord took all reasonable steps to enforce the tenants’ obligations to comply with the law and even brought an application to terminate the lease before the Landlord and Tenant board but the process was adjourned for several months.
In parallel to this, the condo corporation commenced a court application on an urgent basis requiring the tenants to keep their dogs muzzled and on a leash while on common areas. It also asked for an order permanently removing the dogs from the building because of the manner in which the tenants handled them, which made them a danger and likely to cause injuries to others.
Despite having received ample and repeated notices of court proceedings, the tenants did not show up in court (at multiple hearings). Notices were sent by mail, by email and taped to the door of the unit, containing bold, underlined and cap letters.
Eventually, the tenants were ordered to remove the dogs from the unit by January 31, failing which the court would hold an urgent hearing to terminate the tenancy. The tenants did not obey this order either.
On February 10, the Sheriff attended the unit and removed the dogs assisted by municipal animal control officers but, due to a technicality, they had to return the dogs to the tenants who left with them. At the time of the intervention, one of the tenant was verbally abusive and threatened to find where the officer’s children went to school and also to unleash more dogs on the building’s residents (“the loudest German shepherds that he could find”).
Another hearing was scheduled for March 11, to evict the tenants. This time, one of them appeared with a licensed paralegal who asked for an adjournment to familiarize themselves with the file. This request was refused by the judge due to the past history, urgency and dangerosity of the situation. The judge adjourned the matter for 2 hours to allow the tenant to prepare if he wished to testify. The tenant chose not to testify.
At this latest hearing, the judge had to determine whether the dogs had been returned to the unit. If they had, the tenants were in breach of prior court orders and the tenancy would be terminated.
In submissions, the paralegal submitted that there was no actual evidence that the dogs were still in the unit … other than video evidence taken during an inspection of the unit showing bowls of water and dog food as well as soiled pee pads in the unit and new dog droppings on the balcony. There was also a suggestion that the bag full of dog excrement that had been dropped on the patio immediately below the unit (and exploded) could have come from elsewhere.
The judge concluded that irresistible evidence pointed to the dogs having been returned to the unit. So the only question left was whether to evict the tenants (for being in breach of the prior order(s) requiring the removal of these dogs from the unit).
Can the Superior court evict tenants?
Normally, issues between landlords and tenants are governed by the Residential Tenancies Act and all proceedings dealing with these must go before the Landlord and Tenant Board. The Superior Court of Justice therefore does not usually have jurisdiction over disputes between tenants and landlords. The judge acknowledged that. For that reason, he indicated that he would not rule on the late rent, for instance.
However, section 134 of the Condo Act expressly authorize the Superior Court of Justice to terminate a tenancy but only if the tenant has breached a prior order requiring that they comply with the Act or the corporation’s governing documents. In other words, before the court will evict a tenant from a condo, the landlord must prove that the tenant is acting in contravention to a compliance order. A “two strikes you’re out” kind of process.
Contemplated changes to the Condo Act (which are not in force yet) will continue to authorize the courts to evict a tenant if:
- they pose a serious risk to the health and safety of other (or of damage to property);
- they are found to be unsuited for the communal occupation of the property; and,
- no order will be adequate to enforce compliance.
The judge concluded that the current situation met the legal test of both the current provisions of the Condo Act and the future one cited above.
The court terminated the tenancy:
“The issue here is that the tenants keep dogs that they do not train or control to avoid mauling people or others’ pets. The dogs have been labelled “dangerous” by the City. Yet the tenants have let the dogs roam the halls. I saw video of one dog entering an elevator with no one on the leash. Another time one of the dogs lunged at a child and Ms. Siarek was barely able to contain it. They refuse to muzzle the dogs in the hallways, elevators, and other common areas despite being ordered to do so by the City. “
The judge found these tenants to be “ungovernable”, refusing to act in a socially acceptable manner with due respect and consideration for their neighbours. They placed their own desire to handle their dogs as they wish above the rights of the other users of the condominium common areas to be safe from threats of attack and injury.
The tenants were given until the end of the month to vacate the unit.
Possibly in light of breaches to prior order, the judge also granted the landlord vacant possession of the unit and directed the Sheriff to assist with the enforcement of the order with the assistance, if required, of the Toronto Police and of the Toronto Animal Services.
Why did the parties not go to the CAT
Some of you may be wondering why this case did not go to the Condo Authority Tribunal. After all, the CAT has jurisdiction over disputes related to pets and animals. There may be two reasons: a practical one and a legal one.
Practically speaking, I suspect the Superior Court of Justice is better equipped to accommodate urgent hearings (as was required in this case) and has more remedial powers (such as the authority to terminate tenancies, order vacant possession and perhaps even to involve the Sheriff and Toronto Police…).
The other reason why the corporation went to the Superior Court is perhaps because, while the CAT has jurisdiction over disputes pertaining to pets and animals, it does not have jurisdiction over what used to be labelled “dangerous activities” (under section 117). The Superior Court of Justice continues to have exclusive jurisdiction over disputes involving a condition or activity that is likely to damage property or cause an injury or illness to individuals.
You can read the case here.