Therapy Dogs and Housing Pet Restrictions

woman hugging her dog

Many people seek comfort in the paws of a pet but may not know all the terminology for the various types of animal-owner relationships. Therapy dogs? Emotional support dogs? Service dogs? The various terms may seem like they could be interchangeable, but in reality and under the law, the status of your animal may have major implications on things like your rights to keep your dog in pet-restricted housing.

Under Florida law you may be able to keep your dog in pet-restricted housing if the dog qualifies as a service animal or an emotional support animal. In either case, as long as your request to keep your animal is well-supported with documentation of a disability and a disability-related need for the animal, your Association must accommodate you or face discrimination charges under Florida fair housing law.

If you have what is known as a “therapy dog,” however, it is unlikely that you will be entitled to an accommodation, unless your dog also provides emotional support to you in connection with a disability. Understanding the difference between therapy dogs, emotional support animals, and service dogs is the first step in determining whether you will be able to keep your dog in pet-restricted housing in Florida. We can help.

Is Your Pet an Emotional Service Animal, a Service Dog, or a Therapy Dog?

As defined by federal law, service dogs are “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.  Examples of the work service animals do, as set forth in the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) include “guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, and calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during an anxiety attack.”

As stated in the ADA, dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.  Emotional support animals are more broadly defined in federal guidance, as “other trained animals that do work, perform tasks, provide assistance, and/or provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities.”

Therapy dogs are not service dogs or emotional support animals.  Typically, these dogs go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals and nursing homes. They provide comfort to children who are learning to read and visit seniors in assisted living. While they provide an extremely valuable service, however, therapy dogs are not covered under the ADA and do not entitle their owners to accommodation in pet-restricted housing.

How to Obtain Accommodation in Pet-restricted Housing

Federal and state fair housing law prohibit discrimination based on disability, including refusal to make reasonable accommodation in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. If you have a service dog or emotional support animal, you can seek accommodation from your Florida condo Association. If you have a therapy dog that also assists you with a disability-related need, you may be entitled to keep your dog in pet-restricted housing.

Florida law defines disability quite broadly, and includes such conditions as chronic fatigue; mental illness; anxiety; and depression. If your disability substantially limits one of more major life activities, including performing manual tasks, eating, sleeping, caring for yourself, concentrating, thinking, or communicating, and your dog alleviates the emotional effects of your disability, you may have a “disability-related need,” qualifying you for an accommodation.

As you consider whether to seek accommodation, keep in mind that there are very specific requirements for a request for accommodation.  There are also certain pitfalls to avoid so that you can ensure that your request won’t be delayed or denied. Relying on a certificate from an online provider to support your request for an accommodation may be tempting, but is often an automatic red flag that will likely jeopardize your request.

What is more, a recent law now makes it a crime in Florida to misrepresent the need for an emotional support animal.  Therefore, the importance of submitting proper and reliable information to support your request cannot be overstated.

How We Can Help

If you need assistance with getting your emotional support animal or service dog approved in pet-restricted housing, we welcome you to contact us at (954) 966-3909.  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 also make sure to protect your privacy with regard to your confidential medical information.

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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