Varun Mutneja has relied on his service dog Nala for years to support his mental health. But now, he and his pregnant wife say the board at their recently purchased condo is threatening to kick the four-year-old golden retriever out.
“We just bought a condo thinking, ‘Great, this is a good step in our life,’ and with the baby coming on board, the thought of losing the dog is just adding to all the anxiety,” Mutneja told CTV News Toronto.
Since 2018, Nala has been by Mutneja’s side and even attended the showing of the Etobicoke condo he and Periana would eventually buy in May of last year.
The young couple said they knew the board had a pet restriction policy for animals over 20 lbs (Nala is 50 lbs) before they moved in, but they said there was no mention of accommodation or inclusion for service animals in their bylaws.
Because of that, Mutneja and his wife Samantha Periana went out of their way to let the property manager know about Nala and her significance as a service animal.
“We were up front and honest about it from the very beginning. We brought it to their attention as soon as we could. We gave them all of Nala’s documentation, her service dog requirements, her certification, everything,” Periana said.
Mutneja said Nala is registered with Service Dogs Canada and successfully completed the organization’s training program.
After all of those documents were submitted when the couple moved in in July, Mutneja went one step further and wrote a declaration to the condo board in August, which stated his need for a service dog, a step he said he took based on a recommendation from the condo’s property manager.
However, in October, the couple said they received a letter from the board’s legal team asking for those documents, which they provided.
Mutneja and Periana said the board and their legal team responded by “questioning the integrity” of the letter provided by the physician, which CTV News Toronto has viewed, as well as other related documents.
“They have been demanding Varun's personal medical records or to have the service animal immediately removed from the property. This has triggered further stress to his mental health,” Periana said.
According to the couple, the board said they had until Feb. 1 to get rid of Nala or the corporation would file a complaint with the Condominium Authority Tribunal (CAT) to evict her.
At time of writing, Nala is still with the couple in the Etobicoke apartment.
In a statement issued to CTV News Toronto, the board of directors at Kings Gate Condo Corporation said it is “complying with its obligations pursuant to the Ontario Human Rights Code and its Accommodation Policy and will continue to do so.”
In a follow up email to Kings Gate, CTV News Toronto asked if the board still intends to evict the dog but did not receive a response.
The couple added there are other residents in the building with dogs larger than 20lbs that are not service animals. The board has approved those animals and granted an exception to them as they paid a fee of $650 to draft a pet accommodation with their solicitor, the couple said.
According to the code, the provincial law gives everybody equal rights and opportunities without discrimination in areas such as jobs, housing and services.
“The code’s goal is to prevent discrimination and harassment because of race, sex, disability and age, to name a few of the 17 grounds,” according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. “In Ontario, the law protects you from discrimination and harassment in these areas because of mental health disabilities and addictions.”
In an interview with CTV News Toronto, real estate lawyer Bob Aaron said that Mutneja is entitled to an accommodation on the basis of his disability.
“This is not a pet. We’re not taking about a pet. And we’re not talking about a dispensation to comply with the rules for $650,” Aaron said.
“This is an accommodation under the Human Rights Act, which triumphs every other piece of legislation. It trumps the Condominium Act, it trumps the condo rules. If they keep up with this nonsense, [Mutneja could] go to the [Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario] and get damages from the condo corporation... This is a matter of principle. He’s entitled to accommodation. The Human Rights Act prevails. No money. No fee. Zero.”
Moreover, Mutneja has a doctor’s note outlining his need for a service animal as well as a declaration from his therapist, which states that the dog is “necessary” for his emotional and mental health and that Nala “will mitigate the symptoms he is currently experiencing.”