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B.C. condo owner wins strata battle thanks to ‘vague’ bylaw about dog size

Condo owner wins right to keep dog thanks to technicality
WATCH: A North Vancouver condo owner has won the right to keep his dog, because of the way his strata bylaws are worded. Kristen Robinson explains.

North Vancouver condo owner Parham Esfahani is celebrating a big victory after a lengthy dogfight with his strata.

“I was very very happy,” he said. “I knew that this was kind of unprecedented or near-unprecedented.”

When Esfahani bought his unit at Mira on the Park two years ago, he admits he thought medium-sized dogs were allowed.

Shortly after his golden retriever puppy named Zoey moved in on October 2016, he said the strata told him Zoey would soon outgrow the pet bylaw, which defines a small dog as one that “can comfortably be picked up and carried.”

Esfahani asked the strata council to exercise discretion and allow his dog to stay once full-grown, saying there were dogs in the strata complex that would not be considered small, such as a wheaten terrier, a pit bull and a goldendoodle – all of which he says do not meet the criteria of “small dog” and have been grandfathered under the pet bylaw.

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In December 2016, Esfahani received a letter from the strata stating that “the dog does not fit within the definition of a ‘small dog’ now and it is not permitted in the building under the bylaw.”

Esfahani was directed to remove Zoey from the strata property by June 30, 2017.

Faced with fines of $200 per week if Zoey didn’t leave, Esfahani decided to study his strata’s pet bylaw.

“The bylaw was faulty…they have specifically defined size as the comfortability of picking up a dog which is not actually the true definition of size,” said Esfahani, who decided to challenge the bylaw, providing video evidence showing that he and his fiancé could both easily pick up and carry Zoey.

Coverage of stratas on Globalnews.ca:

The strata argued various websites, including the American Kennel Club’s, describe the golden retriever breed as medium-large or large.

Canada’s Civil Resolution Tribunal ultimately sided with Esfahani, ruling the bylaw was “unenforceable because it is too vague.”

“In the present dispute, I find that there are sufficient uncertainties in the language of the pet bylaw that a reasonably intelligent person would not be able to determine the meaning. There is no objective criteria to determine if a dog is or is not in compliance with the bylaw. There may be cases where a golden retriever weighs less than 35 pounds, in which case it would be a small dog by the American Kennel Club definition. This may be because of age, condition or perhaps breeding. The December 22, 2016 letter from the strata does not say which criteria was applied, although it appears to be related to their views about the breed,”wrote Tribunal Member Maureen E. Baird in an online ruling.

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Baird also stated that “any fines levied against the applicant must be reversed, given my finding that the bylaw is vague and unenforceable.”

“It felt great, it felt amazing,” Esfahani said. “I felt vindicated to be honest, it was a long time coming.”

Strata lawyer Alex J. Chang says the online tribunal ruling highlights the need for bulletproof bylaws that can withstand a legal fight.

READ MORE: Court orders couple to sell condo following a costly parking war

“Strata corporation bylaws are laws and they should be drafted in a clear way,” Chang said.

“It’s no longer a particularly expensive enterprise to challenge your strata corporation’s bylaws if you think they’re being applied unreasonably or as in this case ambiguous[ly].”

Esfahani told Global News he wants to “push a more pet-friendly agenda” in his building and is considering running for a seat on his strata council, which is not commenting on the ruling.

If the strata decides to refit its pet bylaw, Zoey will be grandfathered in, cementing her big win as a “small dog.”