What Does an HOA Board in Florida Consider When a Request for an Emotional Support Animal is Made?

Two women in a meeting. One woman is holding her dog

If you are wondering how to get an emotional support animal approved in pet-restricted housing, it is important to understand what is required under Florida law on emotional support animals. Knowing what your Condo Association or Homeowners Association (HOA) is permitted to consider when you make your request, as well as what could raise red flags when your application is received, will go a long way to ensuring that your request is treated fairly and granted promptly. If you are able to show, with reliable documentation, that you are disabled and that you have a disability-related need for an emotional support animal, you should be able to receive an accommodation from your HOA or Condo Association under both state and federal law.

There are certain pitfalls to avoid, such as relying only on an emotional support animal letter from an online provider, to support your request. An Association will likely delay or deny your request if your documentation is insufficient or suspect. A new Florida law even makes it a crime to misrepresent the need for an emotional support animal. An experienced Florida condo attorney can help you get your request right the first time, so that you will not be subject to additional, potentially more intrusive requests for information concerning your disability and your need for your emotional support animal.

Florida Law on Emotional Support Animals

Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. In addition, both federal and state law provide that disabled persons may request a reasonable accommodation from their HOA or Condo Association for an emotional support animal. The disability may be physical or mental, and, in either case, the disability must substantially limit one or more major life activity. Importantly, “major life activity” is broadly defined and includes activities such as sleeping, concentrating, and communicating, as well as activities such as seeing, hearing, walking, working, and performing manual tasks.

To request an accommodation from your HOA for your emotional support animal, simply claiming that you have a disability will not suffice. You must also show that you have a need for an emotional support animal that is directly related to your disability. In other words, under the Fair Housing Act, you will have to demonstrate that the animal provides “emotional support to alleviate a symptom or effect of the disability.” Florida law on emotional support animals follows this guidance.

How Your HOA or Condo Association Will Assess Your Request

New guidance released earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides that the Association may start with a determination of whether your disability is observable. Observable impairments include blindness, deafness, mobility limitations, or other types of impairments with observable symptoms or effects, such as autism or Parkinson’s disease. If the disability is observable or already known to the Association, the next step will be to evaluate whether there is a connection between the person’s disability and the animal. If the disability is non-observable or not previously known to the Association, your Association may request information regarding both the disability and the disability-related need for the animal.

Associations are entitled to information that “reasonably supports” a claim of disability and a disability-related need. They will request reliable verification of your need for an emotional support animal and can require documents other than an online certification. Letters obtained from internet providers are almost always an immediate red flag and will likely result in an outright denial of your request, or, at the very least, a delay in the process while the Association makes further demands for supporting documentation. What is more, a new law that went into effect in Florida on July 1, 2020, makes it a crime to misrepresent the need for an emotional support animal.

Importantly, Associations may not require a health care professional supporting a request for accommodation to use a specific form, provide notarized statements, make statements under penalty, or provide details of your diagnosis or other detailed information about your physical or mental impairments.  That said, if your Association has reason to question your disability or need for your emotional support animal, the Association is allowed to conduct a meaningful review. This usually involves requests for more and more information. Associations often use this as an opportunity to get you to do or say something inconsistent so they can deny your request. The importance of getting the request right the first time cannot be overstated.

How a Florida Condo Attorney Can Help

We can assist you with your request for an accommodation for an emotional support animal from start to finish to make sure it gets done correctly and that you receive written documentation of the approval from the Association, to avoid any future challenges or complications. We know the Florida law on emotional support animals inside and out.

We serve the legal needs of individual condominium owners, home owners and cooperative owners throughout the State 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.

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