Emotional Support Animal
The following is a paraphrased example of the one question that we are asked most frequently:
“I live in a condominium, which has had a “no pet amendment” since it was built. A person recently purchased a unit and has been seen with a dog that barks all the time. The owner signed all the disclosure forms that stated “no pets,” but later gave the board a note from a nurse practitioner stating that the dog is an emotional support animal. What can we do?”
The Federal Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. §§3601-3619) and the regulations promulgated thereunder require ‘housing providers,’ – including entities such as condominium or homeowners associations to make reasonable accommodations to disabled persons in rules, policies, practices or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunities to use and enjoy a dwelling. Florida’s version of the Fair Housing Act, Section 760.23, Florida Statutes, similarly requires accommodations for disabled persons. Decisions of federal and state courts in interpreting the Federal Fair Housing Law and Florida’s Fair Housing laws have held that in certain instances housing providers, including a condominium or homeowners association, must accommodate those with a legitimate physical or emotional disability requiring the support or assistance of an animal.
Notwithstanding, simply providing a note from a nurse practitioner or a letter and certificate purchased from the Internet, stating that the dog is an emotional support animal does not provide the governing body of a condominium or a homeowners association the reasonable opportunity to establish that the resident suffers from a disability defined by law; and further, that the applicant requires the physical assistance or emotional support of a dog to reasonably accommodate his or her disability. Thus, in this instance, it likely would not be unreasonable for the association to carefully request additional information to allow its governing body to evaluate the reasonableness of the request. The courts and agencies have required that the housing provider open a “dialogue” to allow for a meaningful review of the request.
For example, the association may reasonably request that the resident provide a statement from a medical professional explaining that the requesting party: (a) has a physical or mental impairment (b) explains which major life activities are substantially impaired by the disability or handicap; (c) a description of the accommodation requested; (d) and an explanation of how the accommodation alleviates or mitigates the disability or handicap. If, upon receipt of such additional information, the association concludes that the resident is disabled under the law and that the emotional support of the identified animal is reasonably necessary to accommodate the disability, then approval of the accommodation is required by law.
Where an accommodation is required by law, the resident is still required to maintain the animal in accordance with existing rules and regulations; which among other requirements often include, that residents permit no activity that creates a nuisance or annoyance to other residents. Such rules require to take all actions necessary to prevent the animal from making a noise that may unreasonably annoy or disturb the peace of neighboring residents.
Keep in mind that where an accommodation is required to be made by law, the animal is not considered a “pet.” Rather, it is an animal that the resident is entitled to have per the law for the physical assistance or emotional support for the disability that the resident is afflicted with. Therefore, the governing board of a community association should always seek the advice of legal counsel before denying the request of a resident for an emotional support animal. The association’s legal counsel is best suited to advise and assist the governing board with the implementation of appropriate procedures should the board receive such a request.
Steven H. Mezer – Board Certified Condominium and Planned Development Law Attorney, Tampa
JoAnn Nesta Burnett, Esq.