Many Florida Condominium Associations have made it increasingly more difficult for individuals with assistance animals like Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals. Contrary to both State and Federal Laws, some Associations have refused to allow Emotional Support Animals and will only allow individuals with Service Dogs. The main differences between Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals are that Service Dogs require specialized training to assist their owner with a disability related task while Emotional Support Animals do not need specialized training. According to HUD, Emotional Support Animals, by their very nature may relieve depression and anxiety, and help reduce stress-induced pain in persons with certain medical conditions affected by stress. Unfortunately, most individuals are unaware of the fact that while Emotional Support Animals are recognized by the Fair Housing Act (“FHAA”) they are not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). That means that you cannot bring Emotional Support Animals to public places like stores, restaurants and shopping malls.
Recent data suggests that Florida Condo Owners and Homeowners are going online searching “Service Dog Certification” and purchasing Emotional Support Dog Kits or even trying to get a Doctor’s letter via an online service. These online registration kits and online Doctors are big red flags for the Condo and HOA Associations and usually result in a denial of the request. It has even been rumored that a Condo Association’s Lawyer went online and registered “Pluto” as a Service Dog on behalf of “Minnie & Mickey Mouse” and purchased a tag and vest and posted pictures of them online just to demonstrate that they have no real value or validity.
Many public places are afraid to question somebody with a dog for fear of a discrimination complaint and the bad press that usually follows. As a result we see many people in the stores, restaurants and shopping malls with dogs that we know cannot be service dogs. It has become so problematic with people bringing their animals to public places that the Florida Legislature recently amended Florida Law making it a crime to misrepresent that your dog is a Service Dog. Florida Statute Section 413.08(9) was amended July 1, 2015, to state that a person who misrepresents having a service animal commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.
According to the Statute, a public accommodation may ask (1) if an animal is a service animal necessary for a disability and (2) what disability related tasks the animal is trained to perform for its owner. For individuals seeking accommodations in Florida Condominiums and Homeowner Associations, they may be asked much more if their disability is not readily apparent. If Condo Associations and HOA’s have reason to question a person’s disability or need for an assistance animal they have the right to request additional information before the Association can properly evaluate an accommodation request. Unfortunately, for many individuals, they are not aware of just how far the Associations can go with these inquiries and the Associations almost always go way beyond what is normally allowed. This is where an HOA Attorney can help keep the Associations in check. Also, it is important to note that you don’t automatically get an accommodation simply because you are disabled. You must seek out the accommodation from the Association and provide reliable documentation to establish that you have a disability and that the animal in question will provide some type of disability-related assistance or emotional support. Many people try to do this on their own without understanding the various complexities with the State and Federal Laws and wind up doing more harm than good.
In light of the recent changes to Florida Law and the ever increasing problem with people misrepresenting their need for these assistance animals, Florida Condo Associations and HOA’s have been cracking on down and have made it much more difficult for people to obtain an accommodation to the Association’s Pet Restrictions or Pet Rules. Before you approach your Association with such a request you should seek out the advice of a Florida Lawyer that represents individuals and who has experience with the Fair Housing Act and the Laws regarding service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals.
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 does not allow pets, you will need to request an accommodation from the Association. We will assist you with the entire process to make sure that your request is properly documented and has the best chance of being approved.
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.