Miami Condo Lawyer Discusses Emotional Support Animals and the Fair Housing Act

Miami and the Sunny Isles / Aventura area have some of the largest concentrations of Condominium Associations in Florida.  In addition, the beautiful City of Naples in Collier County has an extremely large number of Condominium Associations.  According to manta.com there are approximately 171 different Condominium Associations listed in Naples.  If you live in Naples and don’t live in a Condo than you probably live in an HOA or Homeowners’ Association.

Regardless of whether you live in Miami, Aventura, Fort Lauderdale or the beautiful City of Naples, chances are you live in some type Community Association with  many Rules and Restrictions dictating what you can and cannot do.  For some this can be an annoying trade off for the benefits we receive by living within a Community Association.  For those living with disabilities Condo Pet Restrictions can effectively deny us the ability to use and enjoy our dwelling unit.

Many people living with disabilities find that a service animal or emotional support animal is an absolute necessity to being able to use and enjoy their home.   Individuals with a mental impairment, like chronic anxiety or depression, would rather use an emotional support animal to allieviate their symptoms  than take countless medications with many negative side effects.  Many disabled individuals routinely face threats and acts of intimidation by their Condo Boards and fellow neighbors.   You don’t usually see a visually impaired individual with a seeing eye dog getting harassed about walking with his dog in the common elements but I have heard many horrible stories of Board Members and irate neighbors screaming and yelling at people because they were simply out walking with their emotional support animals.   Many Condo and HOA Boards simply are not familiar with the laws and the rights afforded to these individuals.

The HUD Department of Equal Housing Opportunity recently put out a Fact Sheet discussing Service and Emotional Support Animals.  According to HUD, the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act recognize three classes of animals:

1. Pets are animals living with owners for purposes of love and affection and company.

2. Emotional Support Animals provide some therapeutic benefit to person with mental or psychiatric disability, requiring no specific training.  The mere presence of this animal mitigates the effects of the emotional or mental disability.

3. Service Animals are any animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a physical, intellectual, and mental disability-IE guiding individuals with impaired vision, providing protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.

According to the FHA, a refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services when necessary to provide an individual with an equal opportunity to enjoy and use a residential dwelling is considered discriminatory.  Condo and Homeowner Associations must modify their rules and restrictions to permit an individual with a disability to use, own, and live with a service and/or emotional support animal when doing so is necessary to provide the individual an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.   Individuals wishing to live with an emotional support or service animal may be required to present documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional demonstrating that the animal provides support which mitigates at least one identified symptom of a disability.   Condo and Homeowner Associations are not allowed to charge an additional fee, deposit or surcharge in exchange for allowing an individual to have a service or emotional support animal, even if they require such a charge from owners with pets.

Many owners think they can simply get a prescription from their Doctor for the emotional support animal and that the Condo or Homeowners’ Association is not allowed any other information.  Unfortunately, some recent court decisions have discussed the right of the housing provider to conduct a “reasonable inquiry” if they are skeptical about the individual’s need for the emotional support animal.   These court cases seem to contradict the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 which provides that a housing provider is not allowed to inquire about the extent of the disability or ask for detailed medical records for the individual requesting the service or emotional support animal.

In a recent Blog put out by the Sun Sentinel, a local Condo Association Attorney discusses How far can a condo go when asking about emotional support animals?   The article discusses a recent court case from the Middle District of Florida involving a war veteran’s request for an emotional support animal due to his post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)which resulted in chronic anxiety. The citation for the case is.   Bhogaita v. Altamonte Heights Condominium Association, Inc., 2012 WL 1051 (M.D.Fla).  The Court ruled “By persisting in its intrusive quest for more – and largely irrelevant – information, AHCA [Altamonte Heights Condominium Association, Inc.] constructively denied Bhogaita’s request”.

In a recent article from Aventura Florida, put out by floridarealtors.org, they discuss a recent settlement where the Point Three East Condominium Association in Aventura, Florida agreed to pay $18,000 to a resident for refusing to allow her to keep an emotional support animal, even though the resident provided documentation attesting to her need for the accommodation.  In addition to paying the $18,000 the condominium association will be required to enact a reasonable accommodation policy and obtain fair housing training for all its board members.

If you or somebody you love has a service animal 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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