Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals in Condominiums and Homeowner Associations

I have been getting a considerable amount of calls lately from Condo owners and Homeowners here in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Aventura, Naples, Sunny Isles and Boca Raton.  The majority of the calls are from individual owners concerned about various Condo Pet Rules and HOA Rules restricting their ability to keep pets as well as Assistance Animals such as Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals.  Many people have gone online looking for Service Dog Certification and obtained Emotional Support Dog Kits or tried to Register a Service Dog that was really an Emotional Support Animal.   Typically these Service Dog Certifications obtained online are red flags for the Condo and HOA Associations as neither the Fair Housing Act nor the Americans With Disabilities Act require any type of certification.

Unfortunately there have been some negative case decisions combined with the fact that many Condo Associations and HOA’s don’t really understand the laws dealing with Assistance Animals like Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs.   Many individuals use the wrong terminology referring to their animal as  a “Service Pet” or “Emotional Support Pet” or “Therapy Pet” causing the Association Attorney to question their request.  In addition, many Florida Condominiums and Homeowner Associations are attempting to restrict things like the size, weight and breed of the animal, as well as the  number of animals, and even where the owner can walk the animal on the Association Property.

While it is true that Associations can enact Rules and Restrictions concerning an individual’s use of the common elements and even their own unit, these Rules and Restrictions must not be unreasonable or arbitrarily enforced.  In addition, if the Board is enacting Rules and Restrictions on it’s own without a vote of ownership, the Rules and Restrictions must be within the scope of the Board’s Rule making authority and cannot contradict the Declaration of Condominium or a right that can be reasonably inferred therefrom.

One of the big problems with Condo Boards enacting Pet Restrictions and Condo Pet Rules  is that they do not apply to Assistance Animals such as Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals.  For example, while a Condo or HOA Board may restrict the weight of pets to 30 pounds they cannot tell a person with a disability that they cannot keep a Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal that is over 30 pounds.  People with disabilities that require assistance animals or animals for emotional support are protected from such restrictions under the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA).

Recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) came out with an advisory notice to help people understand the obligations of housing providers under the various Federal Acts including the FHAA and the ADA. The Notice came out on April 25, 2013 and is referred to as FHEO-2013-01. A copy of this Notice can be found on the HUD website or you can simply click this link to read it in it’s entirety.

The key points in the Notice are that while the ADA limits the definition of “service animal” to dogs that require specialized training, the FHAA allows accommodations for “assistance animals” to individuals with disabilities in housing.  An “assistance animal” is not a pet but rather an animal that provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.  In addition, it can be an animal that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of an individual’s disability.

Another key point made in the Notice is that Housing Providers (like Condo Associations and HOA’s)  must provide an exception to the Association’s pet restrictions to permit a person with a disability to “live and use an assistance animal(s) in all areas of the premises where persons are normally allowed to go, unless doing so would impose an undue financial and administrative burden or would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider’s services.”  In addition, the “Breed, size and weight limitations may not be applied to an assistance animal.”

Because housing providers are allowed to request that  people with disabilities, that are not readily apparent, submit “reliable documentation” of a disability and their disability-related need for an assistance animal, many Condo Associations and HOA’s use that as an opportunity to intimidate individuals with overly intrusive forms and requests for medical information.  Unfortunately, many individuals don’t know their rights nor are they familiar with the legal significance of the various terms and definitions. This usually results in a submission of material that often raises “red flags” for the Association and results in a denial of the individual’s request.

If you or somebody close to you  has an Assistance Animal such as a Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal and your Condo Association or Homeowner Association has not made reasonable accommodations for you or worse, is trying to enforce Pet Restrictions that don’t apply to your animal, you need to contact us to discuss your rights.  In some cases you could be entitled to damages and reimbursement of your Attorney’s Fees and expenses.

The Law Offices of Herb M. Milgrim, P.A., is a Florida Law Firm that represents Condo Owners, Homeowners and Cooperative Owners that have disputes or are contemplating Litigation or a Lawsuit against their Association. We provide prospective clients with a *Free Case Evaluation. You can call us and tell us about your case to see if we can help you. Once we have been retained we review all of the relevant documents and governing Federal & Florida Laws and advise our clients on the best course of action. Call us now (954) 966-3909!

* 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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