If you have a comfort pet you wish to bring to your pet-restricted Florida condominium, you can make a formal request to your association. Federal law allows condo owners with disabilities to seek accommodation for a comfort dog or other pet, referred to as an “emotional support animal.” The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against disabled residents and requires associations to provide reasonable accommodation in rules, policies, practices, or services when requested. To get accommodation for therapy pets in Florida condos, there is a specific process you must go through and it is important to get it right the first time to avoid being subject to further scrutiny and a greater likelihood that your request will be delayed or denied.
To get accommodation for comfort pets in Florida condos, you must provide your association with reliable information demonstrating both that you meet the Fair Housing Act’s definition of disability and that the accommodation is necessary to alleviate the difficulties of your disability. Many people are not even aware of the correct terminology when referring to their animal. They will use the term “comfort pet” or “therapy dog” when their animal is usually an emotional support animal or, in some cases, a service dog if it has specialized training to perform a disability related task. Therapy dogs usually provide assistance to third parties in institutional settings like hospitals and schools.
The Fair Housing Act defines persons with a disability to mean individuals with mental or physical impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities. According to the U.S. Justice Department, mental or physical impairment may include conditions such as:
The term “major life activity” may include:
The key to getting it right the first time is supporting your request for accommodation with reliable, easily verifiable information. You do not want to give the association reason to suspect the legitimacy of your request. Seeking accommodation for comfort pets in Florida condos is best done with the assistance of an experienced condo attorney who can navigate the process and help you avoid potential pitfalls. Many condo associations will get their attorneys to request more and more information from individuals that are not familiar with the law. Ultimately, the doctors will either refuse to provide more information or will err on the side of less information. Many people try to handle these requests on their own and they usually wind up providing insufficient documentation or they do or say something that is not consistent with their request. The associations will then either “red flag” the request or deny it.
While it may be tempting to purchase an inexpensive certification “kit” online and simply provide the certificate to your condo association with your request, many associations are highly skeptical of such certificates. Indeed, the federal government is currently developing guidance on the verification requirement for assistance animals, in part to address the increasing reliance on online certification providers, and it is expected that the guidance will restrict who can validate an individual’s need for an assistance animal like a comfort pet or emotional support animal.
The main problem with online certifications is that upon receiving one, your association is likely to red flag your request and demand additional documentation, including medical records to support your claim of disability and records pertaining to your pet, such as its nature, size, species and training. They may keep demanding more and more information — which you will not be able to obtain from an online provider — resulting in a long, drawn out process and often a poor outcome. You may also be turning over confidential medical information that the housing provider is not entitled to. An online provider will be unable to help you avoid being subjected to unreasonable and invasive demands from a condo association to support your request for an accommodation.
We help you with the accommodation request from start to finish to make sure it gets done correctly and that there is written documentation of the approval. If you need assistance with a request for a reasonable accommodation from your condo association for your therapy pet, we welcome you to contact us at (954) 966-3909.