If your request for a reasonable accommodation from your Florida condo association has been denied (such as a request to keep an emotional support animal or service dog in your pet-restricted condo), you may have a viable claim that the association has violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA prohibits discrimination against disabled residents and requires associations to provide reasonable accommodation in rules, policies, practices, or services when requested. Importantly, in addition to your association potentially being held liable for a violation of the FHA, Florida courts have stated that individual board members may also be held liable if they “personally contributed” to the violation. Whether your request for an accommodation has been denied or delayed and you are considering a lawsuit, or your association has taken the somewhat extreme step of suing you in court to enforce its decision, an experienced Florida condo attorney can help you navigate the process of seeking recovery for an FHA violation.
In a 2014 case, a federal court in Florida ruled on a dispute over whether a couple could keep a service dog in their pet-restricted condominium, as a reasonable accommodation under the FHA, to assist one of the owners, who had multiple sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair. The case, Sabal Palm Condominiums of Pine Island Ridge Ass’n, is important because it makes clear that, in addition to the condo association as a whole, individual board members or agents such as property managers can he held liable when they have personally committed or contributed to a Fair House Act violation.
The court in Sabal Palm concluded that because the President of the Board of Directors “personally contributed” to the associations refusal to reasonably accommodate the owner — by voting against her request to keep a service dog and starting a lawsuit against her — he could be held liable for the violation.
The decision is also important because it contains a lengthy discussion of the process of seeking an accommodation under the FHA, providing useful guidance on what will be required from the owner to support a request, as well as what the courts will not tolerate from condo associations in response. Notably, the court scolded the condo association for going to court to “resolve what should have been an easy decision,” calling it “a sad commentary on the litigious nature of our society.” Because it was obvious that the owner needed the assistance of the service dog, the court stated that Sabal Palm “got it exactly – and unreasonably – wrong.”
The court in Sabal Palm was particularly troubled by the association’s increasingly intrusive demands for documentation from the owner, calling its claim that it needed the documents to make its decision “absurd” and “legally unsupportable.” In addition to stating that it is “doubtful, to say the least, that Sabal Palm was entitled to the detailed medical information it requested concerning [the owner’s] physical disability,” the court also concluded that “a housing provider that refuses to make a decision unless a requestor provides unreasonably excessive information could be found to have constructively denied the request by stonewalling and short-circuiting the process.”
In other words, even if a condo association does not actually reject an owner’s request for an accommodation, it may still be liable for an FHA violation if it unduly delays the process by demanding more and more documentation. This is a key takeaway from the Sabal Palm decision, and is clearly stated in the decision: “When the person requesting an accommodation provides enough reliable information such that the only reasonable conclusion is that the accommodation request should be granted, the housing provider’s denial of the request or undue delay in making a decision violates the FHA.”
If you think you have been the victim of a Fair Housing Act violation by your condo association, we welcome you to contact us at (954) 966-3909. 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 Hollywood, Davie, Pembroke Pines, Hallandale, Sunny Isles, Aventura, Miami, North Miami, Brickell, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, and Naples. We do not represent associations.
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.