Telehealth and Emotional Support Animals

Person Videochatting With Doctor On Mobile Phone

The coronavirus health crisis has impacted all of our lives in ways large and small. As the country continues to deal with the pandemic, we are experiencing a new normal. We are working from home, meeting our friends and family for virtual get-togethers, and many of us have been introduced to telemedicine for the first time, having virtual visits with our healthcare providers. Telehealth has many benefits and even when we are able to return to in-person visits with our doctors, telemedicine is here to stay, especially in rural areas where patients are unable to travel to see their providers.

With the rise of telehealth, you may have questions about whether it impacts the scope and quality of services you expect from your healthcare professionals. One area of concern may involve your need for an emotional support animal in pet-restricted housing. If you need to seek approval from your Florida condo or housing Association to keep your therapy pet, you should be able to obtain the necessary documentation from your healthcare providers using telehealth. As long as you follow the recent guidance from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and you resist the temptation to rely on “certification letters” from internet services, you should be able to request an accommodation for your emotional support animal, even during these challenging times.  An experienced Florida condo attorney can help.

The Benefits of Telehealth

During this health crisis, telehealth has become an extremely useful tool for providing care to patients. For patients dealing with issues unrelated to the coronavirus, telehealth allows them to be “seen” by their own providers, without having to expose themselves or their physicians to any health risks.  Even for those who are not tech-savvy, the various telehealth solutions being implemented around the country are user-friendly and merely require an internet connection.

As telemedicine becomes the standard of healthcare, it may take some providers time to catch up with the technology. Many are using secure telemedicine solutions such as doxy.me to see their patients. You may have already had virtual visits with your practitioners using this platform and seen first-hand that it works quite well and is simple to use.  That said, if you want to rely on telehealth to support a request for accommodation for a therapy pet, you want to be sure that you collect the necessary documentation so that your condo or housing Association cannot deny your request. First, be sure that you have completed any necessary consents to treatment by telehealth with your provider. Second, avoid the temptation to rely on inexpensive certification “kits” for emotional support animals available from online providers. These are often automatic red flags for Associations, triggering requests for additional documentation, including confidential medical records to support your claim of a disability-related need for a therapy pet (which records the Association is NOT entitled to), and resulting in a delayed process and often a poor outcome.

How to Get Your Emotional Support Animal Approved During COVID-19

The key to success with your request for accommodation for a therapy pet is meeting the specific requirements contained in the Fair Housing Act and described in HUD’s recent guidance. The fact that you can only see your healthcare providers via telehealth should not complicate the process. You should still be able to obtain reliable verification of your need for an emotional support animal. Demonstrating that you have both a disability (which can be mental or physical) and a disability-related need can be done using telehealth. That said, getting it right the first time will make the process go more smoothly and quickly and reduce the likelihood that your Association will have grounds to delay or deny your request.

The consequences of submitting unreliable information in support of a request for accommodation for a comfort pet may become more serious beginning July 1, 2020. Proposed Florida legislation currently awaiting the Governor’s signature seeks to, among other things, criminalize misrepresentation of the need for a comfort pet. In particular, the bill states that a person who “falsifies written documentation” or “otherwise knowingly and willfully misrepresents” as having a disability or disability-related need for an emotional support animal commits a second degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to sixty (60) days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

How a Florida Condo Attorney Can Help

If you need assistance with getting your emotional support animal approved in pet-restricted housing, and are only able to have virtual visits with your healthcare provider, we welcome you to contact us at (954) 966-3909. We can help you to navigate the process of obtaining the necessary documentation using telehealth.  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 so you are protected in case the Board or Management changes.

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.

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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