Condo Attorney Representing Owners Discusses Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs

Many of you that subscribe to my frequent postings already  know that I am a Florida Trial Attorney that represents condominium owners and homeowners that have disputes with their associations.  Although I handle all types of cases including condominium pet restrictions, mold contamination and water intrusion cases as well as disputes dealing with 55 and over communities, one of the most rewarding areas of my practice is helping people with disabilities obtain reasonable accommodations for their emotional support animals and service animals despite Condo Pet Restrictions.  You may also know that my main office is in Hollywood Florida near Fort Lauderdale, Miami, West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Sunny Isles and Aventura, and that I handle cases for condo owners and homeowners all over Florida.

The City of Naples in Collier County, Florida is a popular weekend destination for many of us here in South Florida communities like Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale,  Miami, West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Sunny Isles and  Aventura.   According to the Naples Insider, a  great majority of  Naples’ full time residents live  within either a homeowners association or a condo association.  They advise prospective buyers that if they are thinking about buying in Naples, they should have an understanding on how these associations are controlled, organized and managed.

On a recent trip to the beautiful city of Naples, Florida I couldn’t help but take note of the great number of people I observed in public places accompanied by their dogs.   Naples has some great places to shop and I was intrigued by the large number of people that were accompanied by their dogs.  I could only assume, because of their presence in restaurants, stores, hotels and other public areas, that they must be Service Dogs.  While owners of Emotional Support Animals are entitled to reasonable accommodations in housing such as condominiums and homeowner associations, they are typically not allowed in public establishments like restaurants.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. Sections 12181-12189,  protects the rights of disabled individuals to be accompanied by their Service Animals anywhere that the public is normally permitted.

Many individuals with disabilities use Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals to help ameliorate the symptoms associated with their disability.   Another difference between a Service Animal and an Emotional Support Animal is that a Service Animal needs specialized training to perform a task or tasks for the disabled person.  Emotional Support Animals do not need training to ameliorate the effects of a person’s mental and emotional disabilities. 

  “Emotional support animals by their very nature, and without training, may relieve depression and anxiety, and/or help reduce stress-induced pain in persons with certain medical conditions affected by stress.” See, Overlook Mutual Homes v. Spencer,  2009 WL 3486364 (S.D. Ohio 2009). 

our dogs are like family

If you live in a Condominium Association or Homeowner Association that has restrictions on pets you may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act.  In order to qualify you must have a disability, which can be a mental or physical impairment, that substantially limits one or more major life activities.  The term “major life activity” means those activities that are of major or central importance to our daily lives, such as seeing, hearing, walking,  breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for one’s  self, learning, and speaking.  This list is not exhuastive and there have been some cases adding to this list.  In addition, the Federal Government has published various Bulletins discussing these issues.

Many individuals think that they can simply register their Service Animal or Emotional Support Animal and obtain a tag or vest and  that should be sufficient for their Association to grant them a reasonable accommodation.  While a vest or tag identifying an animal as a Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal may be helpful, there is no certification or registration requirement under the current laws.  Moreover,  many individuals have abused this process to the point that such a vest or tag can be a red flag for the Association to question the validity of the individual’s need for the animal.   This writer has even heard of an incident where a Condo Association’s Lawyer registered “Pluto” to “Minnie & Mickey Mouse” and obtained a tag and vest with these credentials.

If you have a Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal and your Association is questioning your need or simply conducting a reasonable inquiry you should consult with an Attorney before responding.  The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act protect the rights of individuals living with disabilities.  These individuals are afforded the right to keep Service Animals & Emotional Support Animals, even when there is an express rule or  policy banning or restricting one’s ability to have  pets.

The law clearly states that discrimination includes  a refusal to make a reasonable accommodation to rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to use and enjoy the dwelling.  See, FHAA, 42 U.S.C. §3604(f)(3)(B).   Under the Fair Housing Act it is unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of any right granted or protected by these sections. 

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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