Is a Doctor’s Letter Enough For a Waiver in No Pet Condo?

If you have ever walked around any of the high end shopping malls like the Bal Harbor Shops,  Aventura Mall, Town Center Mall in Boca Raton, or the exclusive Waterside Shops in Naples, you can’t help but notice many people with their cute little dogs walking around the Mall or in these cute little baby carriages.   As a Trial Attorney that helps Condo Owners and Homeowners obtain accommodations in no pet housing I was curious what laws allowed these people (with no apparent disability) to bring their dogs into the Mall.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a dog lover and would bring my Dalmatians (Jimmy and Lucy) with me everywhere if I could, but my curiosity really just got the better of me.  One person told me they had a Doctor’s Note and that their dog was a Therapy Pet.  Another person told me that their dog (white Bijon in a Burberry Stroller) was a Service Dog but she admitted that she does not really have a disability and nobody at the Mall has ever questioned her.  Often times they refer to these Assistance Animals as a Comfort Pet, Companion Animal, or Emotional Support Pet. For many people seeking a waiver in a No Pet Condominium, questions are always asked.  Unless you know the correct answers you could be raising a red flag for the Condo to seek the removal of your animal or face legal action.

Many individuals seeking a waiver of Condo Pet Rules on their own do more harm than good by raising so called “red flags” that lead to skepticism and ultimately a denial of their request.  One of the most common “red flags” is using the wrong terminology to describe their animal.  Many people don’t understand the difference between Service Animals, Emotional Support Animals, Companion Animals and Therapy Dogs.

Wikipedia defines Emotional Support Animals as  “a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit, such as alleviating or mitigating some symptoms of the disability, to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_support_animal#Multiple_emotional_support_animals)

Service Animals are allowed in public places  like restaurants and shopping malls but they do require specialized training and there must be a direct nexus between the person’s disability.   The Federal Regulations contained in the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) sets forth a narrow definition:

Service Animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.  The revised regulations specify that the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purpose of this definition.  servanimals_ntcfheo2013-01

An Assistance Animal like an Emotional Support Animal is not a pet.   Emotional Support Animals are covered under the Fair Housing Amendment’s Act which does not require specialized training or certification.

Online Certification of an Emotional Support Animal is a definite “red flag” for many Condo Associations being asked to make an accommodation for an individual with a psychological disability.    These so called “Online Certifications” are nothing more than filling out a form and paying a fee in exchange for some type of certificate.  These “Online Certifications” for Emotional Support Animals do not address the key factors such as how the use of an Emotional Support Animal will improve or eliminate the effects of the person’s disability or how the animal is necessary for the individual to be afforded an opportunity to use and enjoy their residence.   Moreover, neither State Law nor the Federal Law impose any “certification” requirement for these Assistance Animals.

In a 2012 Article on this website I wrote about the many negative portrayals in the press surrounding the use of Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs.    In addition to the bad press there have also been some negative cases decided in the Florida Courts and Federal Courts that have allowed Condo Associations and HOA’s to make it even more difficult for people with disabilities to get a waiver or reasonable accommodation to live with their Emotional Support Animal or Service Animal.

Many people think they can simply go online and obtain a sample Doctor letter and then hire some online therapist to sign off on their letter.   Unfortunately, in cases where the person’s disability is not readily apparent,  the Association has the right and even a duty to start a dialogue  to conduct a meaningful review of the individual’s disability and their need for having an Emotional Support Animal.  Most Florida Condominiums and HOA’s seek legal advice from Association Lawyers on all requests for waivers of No Pet Rules or requests for Reasonable Accommodations under the Fair Housing Act.

Over the past several year we have handled many cases for individuals seeking a reasonable accommodation to live with an Assistance Animal like a Service Animal or Emotional Support Animal.  In almost all of the cases where the people already had a Doctor’s Letter it was clear that the letter did not provide the necessary information in order to secure the Accommodation.   In all of these cases we worked closely with the Doctor to make sure that all of the important information was spelled out by the Doctor to avoid the need for further inquiries by the Condo Association.

If you or somebody close to you  has a Disability that involves one or more major life functions and needs an Assistance Animal such as a Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal, you need to contact us to discuss your rights before attempting to seek a waiver of the Association’s No Pet Rules.  In some cases you could be entitled to damages and reimbursement of your Attorney’s Fees and expenses if the Association has discriminated against you or attempted to threaten or intimidate you.

The Law Offices of Herb M. Milgrim, P.A., is a Florida Law Firm that represents individuals.  We do not represent Condo Associations, Homeowner Associations or any type of Community Associations purely as matter of choice.   Over the past 20 plus years we have helped 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 Florida & Federal 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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