Toronto tenant receives $850 bill in ‘lawyer’s fees’ for ‘excessive dog barking’

A Toronto tenant says she’s stunned after receiving a notice for “excessive noise” accompanied by a hefty fee.

“The management’s office lawyer sent me a letter to charge me over $800 for my dog’s excessive barking, which is not true,” Bella Shen tells CityNews.

Shen and her dog Elsa have been residents in their downtown condo building since 2017. In April, the pair moved into a new unit a few floors down. Five months later is when she received her first call from the concierge with a complaint about her dog.

“I went back home and checked the camera. My dog was not barking all hours of the day,” says Shen. “Because that is a workday and I also need to work from home.”

A couple of days later she was contacted again by the concierge. So once more Shen reviewed her home surveillance footage. What she saw was Elsa barking momentarily when she left the apartment and the moments the concierge was heard knocking and lingering outside the door.

Two days she received her first email from the assistant property manager.

“Below you will find the second letter with respect to your dog,” they wrote. “Kindly note that if we do receive another complaint we will be sending you another letter.”

But Shen tells CityNews she never received the first letter. In an attempt to resolve the issue, she responded asking for them to look into it further.

“I talked to them and said may you please investigate because my dog is not an excessive barker,” says Shen.

She says she even provided the property management video in support. But she says she never received a response back.

“I lived on a different floor and never received any complaints.”

One month later Shen and her landlord received a final notice, this time directly from lawyers.

“We write to you regarding the tenant’s dog and its incessant barking,” they said. “This barking is disturbing to other residents…”

The letter goes on to list specific bylaws, acts and rules associated with living in the unit, alongside listing the management’s correspondence to Shen in reference to the barking, with no mention of tenant’s responses.

“…you are required to reimburse the Corporation for the costs it has incurred in seeking the compliance of you and your tenant with the Corporation’s documents in the amount of $847.50 ($750.00 plus HST).”

That same day Shen said she went to the building’s management office in hopes of resolving the issue in person but was told to email instead. Something she says she had already done to no avail.

“They replied to me that the case is closed,” the dog owner says.

An email from the management company adds that she will have to open a case alongside her landlord with the Condominium Authority of Ontario.

“The case is that I actively wanted to communicate with the management office about the situation. My dog is not an excessive barker and I want them to investigate,” she says.

Caryma S’ad, a Toronto-based lawyer who practices in the area of landlord and tenant law, says it’s not so common to receive these kinds of letters, but it’s also not unheard of.

A Toronto tenant says she’s stunned after receiving a notice for “excessive noise” accompanied by a hefty “lawyer’s fee.” (Credit: Bella Shen)

“Condo boards have a lot of power to determine their own processes and among other things can basically do chargebacks to unit owners for expenditures made that are specific to that unit,” she tells CityNews. “And that could include something like a lawyer’s letter, whether it’s for noise complaints, smoking complaints, any number of things.”

S’ad says what you would typically see is warnings prior to a formal letter, which is what we see to some extent in this situation. A common question asked by unit owners is: what level of investigation took place and how is it being determined that their unit is the source of the problem, she says.

“Especially things that are more, let’s say amorphous, like noise and smell for example” she adds. “You want to clearly understand how have we drawn this connection and why am I being held responsible.”

The City of Toronto Animal Service department is no stranger to this issue and has in place a bylaw as well as an investigation process to help citizens deal with excessive noise.

“If there is a possible noise bylaw violation, the officer may take further steps, such as conducting an on-site investigation, or issuing an advisory letter or Notice of Violation,” the City of Toronto’s website says. “If the issue persists, an officer may ask you to complete a Noise Log that records the dates and times that you hear the noise.”

The city will then send a noise package to the complainant to establish that the barking is excessive and is disturbing their comfort. Based on that evidence, Toronto Animal Services may lay a charge, which will be heard in court by a Justice of the Peace.

Earlier this week CityNews reached out to Crossbridge Condominium Services Ltd. about whether or not a thorough investigation, similar to the one Animal Services has in place, was completed. And if there were more than one complainant.

“We take the matters of the Corporation seriously and we respect the privacy of all owners and tenants,” writes senior property manager Alena Zubarava in an email Friday. “The Corporation has taken all proper steps and has fulfilled its obligations under the Condominium Act, 1998.”

But it wasn’t until CityNews reached out to Crossbridge Condominium Services Ltd. that Shen received confirmation on her request to investigate. This time from Zubarava.

“The Corporation’s security staff investigated complaints of a barking dog and sounds were determined to be coming from your unit,” she writes in an email sent that same Friday. “It cannot conduct further investigations unless and until the problem recurs and there are more complaints about a barking dog.”

Shen remains adamant that the alleged excessive barking isn’t Elsa and could possibly be coming from another unit. And that their process in place to inspect service requests and complaints isn’t thorough and, in her case, ignored.

“I keep having someone drop glass but mainly cigarettes on my balcony,” she adds. “Which is super dangerous, and it is a no-smoking building. So, I took them to my concierge and completed a service request thinking they would investigate. They still haven’t done anything.”

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