Tribunal orders B.C. strata with one-pet bylaw to allow woman to keep 3 cats for emotional support

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      Jennifer Schlosser needed three cats since she was a teen.

      She has an anxiety disorder, and the animals calm her.

      The pets provide her emotional support.

      In 2020, her husband Zackary Lenius bought a home at a townhouse complex in the B.C. resort town of Sicamous.

      Not long after the spouses moved in, the strata notified Lenius of a complaint regarding the cats.

      The strata corporation’s bylaws allow only one pet per lot.

      Lenius responded by saying that he and his spouse have a right to keep the cats under provincial human rights legislation.

      That’s the Human Rights Code, wherein Section 8 states that no person should be denied service, accommodation or facility on the basis of disability.

      The dispute eventually reached the online Civil Resolution Tribunal.

      In her reasons for decision, Kate Campbell, vice chair of the tribunal, noted that the CRT may or may not choose to resolve a row that involves the human rights code.

      Campbell exercised the discretion to decide the matter.

      And she did in favour of the woman keeping her three cats.

      The spouses provided a May 20, 2021 letter from B.C. family physician identified only in the reasons for decision as Dr. McKeough.

      The physician wrote that Schlosser has a “diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder”.

      McKeough stated that he agrees with previous health care recommendations regarding her treatment.

      “It is clear that her 3 cats are beneficial for her mental health, and that having to remove an animal would be significantly detrimental to her diagnosed medical condition,” the doctor wrote.

      The animals are “necessary to the above patient’s mental health therapy and that she should not be asked to remove an animal for this reason”.

      The spouses also provided a May 25, 2021 letter from Saskatchewan family doctor identified only as Dr. Adetola.

      The physician “diagnosed Ms. Schlosser with moderately severe anxiety disorder in summer 2020, and that Ms. Schlosser had obviously had the condition for much longer”.

      Adetola wrote that Schlosser had “found therapy” with her three cats, which she had used for a “long time since she was a teenager”.

      “I find that the uncontradicted evidence of Dr. McKeough and Dr. Adetola establishes that Ms. Schlosser has a disability, for the purposes of section 8 of the Code,” Campbell stated.

      Campbell also noted that this evidence “establishes that Ms. Schlosser would suffer an adverse impact related to her disability if the strata does not accommodate her by permitting the 3 cats”.

      The spouses also have a letter from a social worker identified only as BW, who had worked with Schlosser to deal with her “personal anxiety”.

      BW wrote that the “cats are a long standing and an integral part of Jennifer’s treatment plan in managing and regulating her anxiety”.

      Among the arguments presented by the strata is that it does “not have to accommodate Ms. Schlosser’s disability because it arose before she moved into the strata”.

      “I find this is not relevant, and that the strata’s duty to accommodate does not depend on when the disability began,” Campbell noted.

      Campbell also wrote that the strata has “not shown how allowing Ms. Schlosser to keep her 3 cats creates any hardship”.

      “The fact that it requires an exception to the bylaws is not a hardship,” Campbell stated.