What You Should Know About Hurricanes, Your Condo, and Your Emotional Support Pet

Sad dog on a flooded roadAs hurricane season gets underway, there are a number of important preparedness steps Floridians should be taking. Creating or updating your family disaster plan, stocking your home and car with emergency supplies, collecting important documents (emergency phone numbers, insurance information), and preparing for a possible evacuation order, are just a few key elements of Florida hurricane preparedness. Your pets must also be included in your safety and evacuation plans. There may be additional considerations if your pet is an emotional support animal and you live in pet-restricted housing. Before a hurricane hits, you want to be sure that you will be able to safely evacuate your support pet. Understanding your rights and responsibilities for your pet will help you to weather any storm. We can help.

The PETS Act

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the federal government enacted the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (known as the PETS Act). The law provides that in order for states, cities, and counties to receive federal funding for their disaster relief plans, those plans must “account for the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals before, during, and following a major disaster or emergency.”  Florida is one of many states that have amended their disaster relief plans to account for the needs of companion and service animals.

The Act allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide funding to states and localities for the creation, operation, and maintenance of pet-friendly emergency shelters, along with other emergency preparedness actions for companion and service animals.

Because of the PETS Act, it is likely that your community has an emergency shelter that can accommodate your support pets. Find out where that shelter is before the disaster or emergency hits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website also sets forth valuable information concerning pet safety in emergencies.

Register Your Emotional Support Animal Now

Before you face an evacuation order, you want to be sure that you have obtained the appropriate accommodation from your condo association for your therapy pet (referred to in the law as an “emotional support animal”), if you live in pet-restricted housing. You do not want to find out the hard way that your pet will not be allowed to return with you to your home following a storm. Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and if you are able to show that you suffer from a mental or physical disability and that you have a disability-related need for your therapy pet, you can seek accommodation from your condo or housing Association. That said, there are very specific requirements you need to follow when seeking an accommodation. Indeed, proposed Florida legislation currently awaiting the Governor’s signature (and set to take effect on July 1, 2020) criminalizes misrepresentation of the need for a comfort pet. In light of this development, the importance of submitting reliable, detailed information to support your request for an accommodation cannot be understated. A Florida condo attorney can help you get it right the first time, thereby avoiding the possibility that your Association delays or denies your request.

A Word About Association Obligations During a Hurricane

As an owner, you should be aware that Condo and homeowner’s associations have important responsibilities when preparing for hurricane season. Most importantly, your association must have a preparation plan for each stage of a hurricane: before; during; and after the storm. These plans should be available to owners both digitally and in hard copy. Your Association should also advise owners what they should be doing during a hurricane, what precautions they need to take, and what parts of the property might be off limits.

In addition, the Association should keep the community informed of potential storm threats and provide detailed procedures for evacuation before the storm and returning home when it is safe to do so. A notification system for residents should be in place well before a hurricane hits. Other helpful preparation measures by Associations may include shuttering windows of common areas and testing the generator.

How a Florida Condo Attorney Can Help

If you need assistance with seeking accommodation for an emotional support animal in pet-restricted housing, we welcome you to co 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, homeowners and cooperative owners in resolving disputes with their associations throughout Florida, including Broward, Dade and Palm Beach Counties, as well as Hollywood, Davie, Pembroke Pines, Hallandale, Sunny Isles, Aventura, Miami, North Miami, Brickell, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, and Naples. We never represent associations.

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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