What do you do when your Condominium Association sends you a letter telling you to get rid of your pet?
For many of us our pets are like members of the family so this can be a very traumatic and difficult decision to deal with. Before you attempt to take on your Condominium Association by yourself, it is important that you seek out legal advice from an experienced Florida Condominium Lawyer. Enter your information on the right side of this page and get a free case evaluation now. We fight for condo owners’ rights.
(The following will be the first of three parts. The first part will discuss pets that are actually “service animals” protected by the Fair Labor Housing Act. The second part will discuss “emotional support” animals and the third will discuss ways to attack pet restrictions for normal household pets.)
According to the 2009/2010 National Pet Owners Survey, published by the American Pet Products Association (APPMA), 62% of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 71.4 million homes. However, a good majority of the Florida Condominium Associations have prohibitions and restrictions on the ownership of pets. For most condo owners, the association’s request that you get rid of your dog is like asking you to get rid of one of your kids. There is an old saying that “nobody loves you like your dog.” All you have to do is feed it, walk it and show it some attention and you have an unconditional love that is like no other.
When I come home from a long day at work my three boys may be fighting or complaining or nagging me to buy them something but my two dogs just come over and show me their love and affection unconditionally. There really is something to be said about that kind of devotion and loyalty.
In dealing with the Association letter we must first look at how we classify our pet. Is it a “service” animal, an “emotional support” animal or simply our beloved pet? If it truly is a “service” animal then you have definite rights under federal law. While some local laws may restrict the number or type of animal to be held on the property or impose restrictions relating to ownership of an animal, federal law may preempt these restrictions. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) can require that service animals for the disabled be allowed to stay in housing despite provisions prohibiting pets.
The FHA was originally enacted to provide protection from discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, or gender. Since its enactment, in 1968, amendments have been passsed broadening its scope to include protection for handicapped persons. Since the 1988 Amendment, a plaintiff may prove discrimination uunder the FHA by showing a failure to provide a reasonable accomodation. This has been held to include a waiver of the restriction prohibiting pets.
What this means is that your Condominium Association cannot force you to get rid of your pet if it has been registered as a “service” animal. The problem comes in proving that your pet is truly a “service” animal and not merely an “emotional support” animal. The differnce lies in whether you can show a nexus or relationship between the animal and the disability. The most obvious case is a “seeing eye dog” for the blind. A less obvious case would be a “hearing dog” for the deaf. Just because you get a Doctor’s letter does not prove your pet is truly a “service animal. Many Doctors will prescribe a pet for therapuetic reasons or for emotional support but that does not mean that they are “service animals.”
If your pet is a “service animal” within the meaning of the FHA then your decision is simple you hire a Florida Condominium Lawyer that focuses on representing owners and he or she writes a strongly worded letter citing the FHA and its damage provisions which include actual and punitive damages, injunctive relief and attorneys fees and your Association should back down and provide you with a waiver or hardship exemption.
If your pet is an “emotional support” animal then your case is more difficult and it is even more important that you consult with an experienced Florida Condominium Lawyer that takes pride in representing owners.
(Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of this post. Please subscribe to this post by clicking one of the subscription links on the right side of this page.)