Real Estate

Call to condo lawyer would have saved corporation time, money

By Kirsten McMahon, AdvocateDaily.com Managing Editor

A condominium management team that objected to a Jewish condo owner attaching a mezuzah to the doorframe of his residence highlights the importance of seeking legal advice before taking action, says Toronto condominium lawyer Audrey Loeb.

“It’s easy for us to advise on the case law around accommodation of a person’s religious beliefs,” says Loeb, a partner with the Toronto office of Shibley Righton LLP. “Call your lawyer and seek some legal advice before firing off a potentially damaging or embarrassing letter.”

The Canadian Jewish News (CJN) reports the condo owner’s religious object came to the attention of building officials while he was out of town for work. They had entered the unit to change an air conditioner filter and had noticed the mezuzah on his door frame.

“When he returned home, he found a letter in his apartment telling him that ‘it has been brought to management’s attention that you have an item of some sorts attached to the exterior side of the door,’” CJN reports.

The letter cited condo rules saying that owners are not allowed to display, hang or affix anything to the doors of their units. In subsequent conversations with management, the resident was told he could either take down the mezuzah or place it on the inside of his door.

The resident believed his religious rights were being infringed and contacted the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and B’nai Brith Canada for advice. He also posted his story on a Facebook group called Everything Jewish Toronto, the newspaper reports.

The management team later backtracked, and a condo representative was quite “apologetic,” the man told CJN. He was told the earlier condo rep was “mistaken, and I had the full right to keep the mezuzah in place.”

The condo owner accepted the apology, requested it in writing and asked that the same consideration be given to a second Jewish resident in the building, CJN reports.

While this situation appears to have been a misunderstanding and was resolved fairly quickly, that is not always the case, Loeb tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“Why put yourself in a situation where you take a position like that?” she asks. “Some condominium corporations have a tendency to think that they can function without legal advice, and they make decisions that get them into so much trouble.

“In this case, it would have been a two-minute phone call to determine the answer, which is that in 2004 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that personal religious beliefs override the terms of a condominium declaration.

“It’s this ‘penny-wise-pound-foolish’ mentality. A prophylactic phone call to a lawyer would save would embarrassment and money,” Loeb says.

She says a condo owner faced with a similar letter from management could challenge the corporation and take it to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

“At that point, a condo corporation would involve a lawyer anyway,” Loeb says. “In the meantime, you could have saved yourself all that time, expense and embarrassment.”

While she can sympathize with condominium corporations wanting to keep the doors clean, she notes most mezuzahs are small and unobtrusive.

“Prohibiting a mezuzah is different than banning a door knocker or wreath outside of the holiday period,” Loeb adds.

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