COVID-19 and My Emotional Support Dog

woman working at home with her dog

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the country, feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression have overwhelmed many of us. For some, the emotional toll can be debilitating. As the dramatic rise in pet sales and rescues —“pandemic puppy” has even become part of the COVID lexicon — makes clear, people are once again turning to animals as a source of comfort and emotional support.

For those who live in pet-restricted housing and are suffering from anxiety or depression, you may be able to seek accommodation for an emotional support animal from your Condo Association or HOA. An attorney experienced in Florida’s emotional support animal laws can help you with the request, as well as with any subsequent evaluation your Association may pursue once the pandemic is finally over.

The Benefits of Emotional Support Animals

The emotional benefits of having a pet are well-established. In addition to providing nonjudgmental emotional support, according to a professor of Veterinary Medicine, studies show that “contact with pets helps reduce stress and anxiety, particularly when you are experiencing a stressful situation.” For people living with a disability, an emotional support dog can have a huge impact on their mental health and ability to cope with anxiety, depression, and stress.

Emotional Support Animal Laws

State and federal law have recognized the positive impact of emotional support animals for people with disabilities. As one federal court judge noted, “emotional support animals do not need training to ameliorate the effects of a person’s mental and emotional disabilities. Emotional support animals by their very nature, and without training, may relieve depression and anxiety, and/or help reduce stress-induced pain in persons with certain medical conditions affected by stress.

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, disabled individuals living in pet-restricted housing may seek an accommodation for their emotional support dog. You will be required to show, with reliable documentation, that you are disabled and that you have a disability-related need for an emotional support animal. Importantly, under the law the disability may be physical or mental, and, in either case, the disability must substantially limit at least one major life activity. “Major life activity” is broadly defined and includes such activities as sleeping, concentrating, and communicating, as well as seeing, hearing, walking, working, and performing manual tasks.

While it may be tempting, especially now when many of us are rarely leaving our homes, to look to the internet for the supporting documentation you will need for your request, submitting an online support animal letter can be very risky, and is often seen by Associations as a red flag. A better and safer approach is to allow an experienced Florida emotional support animal attorney to help you get it right the first time.

What Happens After the Pandemic is Over

If you are able to obtain an accommodation to keep an emotional support dog in pet-restricted housing during the pandemic, you may be wondering whether you will still be able to keep your dog once the public health crisis is over. Will your Association want to re-evaluate your request and require proof that you still suffer from a disability, even though the threat of COVID-19 has passed?

You can expect some Associations to require updated information concerning your claimed need for an emotional support animal. You may have to provide additional documentation from your mental health provider confirming that you still have a disability-related need for an emotional support animal. Again, be wary of online certification letters, which can result in a denial or delay in your request while your Association makes further, more intrusive demands for supporting documentation. Moreover, a recent Florida law makes it a crime to misrepresent the need for an emotional support animal.

How a Florida Condo Attorney Can Help

If you need assistance seeking accommodation for an emotional support animal in pet-restricted housing, we welcome you to contact us at (954) 966-3909.  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 so you are protected in case the Board or Management changes.  We also make sure to protect your privacy with regard to your confidential medical information.

We serve the legal needs of individual condominium owners, home owners and cooperative owners in resolving disputes with their associations throughout Florida, including Broward, Dade and Palm Beach Counties, as well as Miami, Naples, Brickell, Hollywood, Davie, Pembroke Pines, Hallandale, Sunny Isles, Aventura, North Miami, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach.  We never represent the associations or their boards so we always know who we are fighting for.

Please note that free case evaluation is by telephone and does not include legal advice.  Office consults with legal advice are available on a flat fee basis.

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