If you suffer from a psychiatric disability and rely on your therapy pet to alleviate your symptoms, you may face resistance from a condo association or HOA with a “no pets” policy. Because use of “emotional support” animals to treat psychiatric disorders is not as well understood as, for example, the use of service dogs by the blind, some associations may be skeptical of your claim. The good news is that as long as you are able to show that you are disabled and that you have a disability-related need for your therapy pet, the federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability is on your side. You can request what is referred to as “accommodation” from your condo association or HOA for your therapy pet.
There are specific requirements that you need to follow when seeking an accommodation for an emotional support animal. Understanding what you will have to provide to your condo association or HOA to support your request, as well as what the association may be less inclined to consider or accept, is important to ensuring that the process runs smoothly and efficiently and that your therapy pet will be able to live you in the housing of your choice. An experienced Florida condo attorney can assist you through the process of requesting an accommodation so that you avoid the potential pitfalls and get it right the first time.
Many people 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” pets usually provide assistance to third parties in institutional settings like hospitals and schools. Your request should be characterized as one for an emotional support animal or service dog, if applicable. Using the correct terminology is important as federal law allows condo owners with disabilities to seek accommodation for an “emotional support animal.“
The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Discrimination against a disabled person includes “refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” It is under this law that you may seek an accommodation for an emotional support animal. The U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have issued statements supporting requests for emotional support animals as reasonable accommodations under the FHA and the federal government is expected to release further guidance on the verification requirement for such a request. Some condo associations may not be up to date on the current status of the law, which highlights the importance of having an experienced attorney on your side.
To request an accommodation for your emotional support animal, you will have to show your condo association that you have both a disability and a disability-related need for the animal. Just having a disability is not enough. The animal must work, perform tasks or services for you, or alleviate the emotional effects of your disability. The FHA defines persons with a disability to mean individuals with “mental or physical impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities.” The term mental or physical impairment is quite broad and may include conditions such as:
The term “major life activity” may include any of the following:
How you establish your disability and your disability-related need is critical to the success of your request. You must submit a legitimate, well-supported, legally sufficient request, so that you can avoid being subjected to unreasonable and invasive demands from your condo association or HOA.
Florida condo and homeowners associations keep expensive local law firms on retainer so they are able to fight and delay your claims, while paying these law firms with your dues. We provide legal representation to the individual owner so you are not forced to deal with experienced property managers and association attorneys on your own.
A variety of online providers offer inexpensive certification “kits” for emotional support animals. You should be wary of these services as many associations are highly skeptical of online certificates. Upon receiving one, your association is likely to red flag your request and demand additional documentation, including confidential medical records to support your claim of disability — which the association is NOT entitled to — as well as records about your pet’s 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.
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. 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.
If you need assistance with getting your emotional support animal approved in pet restricted housing, we welcome you to contact us at (954) 966-3909. 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.