This author has learned that the answer to that question is “yes” (and, upon a quick Google search, they look to be adorable). How is that remotely relevant to a real estate law firm’s blog? Well, many Florida condominium and homeowner associations have rules that prevent or restrict an owner from keeping pets – no matter how adorable they may be. However, animals are crucial tools used by some individuals with disabilities, such as seeing-eye dogs to assist the blind, or assistance dogs for seizure-prone individuals. And therein lies a conflict between an association’s rights to governance and persons with legitimate health and welfare needs.
How to resolve the conflict? Well as always, the government is here to help. Federal law and Florida law require associations to make “reasonable accommodations” to persons with disabilities, and that includes the relaxing of restrictions or rules that prohibit the keeping of animals. The law has developed so that an association is expected to allow a disabled person to keep a “service animal” or “emotional support animal” as a reasonable accommodation to the disabled person. Service animals are defined by the Americans with Disabilities act as dogs that are specially trained to do work or to perform tasks for people with disabilities. The tasks that are performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. Emotional Support Animals are a much broader category – they can be any animal that a medical professional has determined provides some benefit to a person with a disability. That includes dogs, cats, birds, turtles, and – you guessed it – miniature horses.
Our association clients have reported that there is an uptick in persons making requests for exceptions to their pet policies, and citing to the need for emotional support animals. Some have even pointed out that there are services which will provide an online diagnosis of a disability, and a letter prescribing a support animal to aid with that disability (without actually meeting with the individual). They have further asked whether they are required to take a person’s word for it that they have a need for an emotional support animal. The answer is that the association is allowed to make a limited and reasonable inquiry into a person’s need for an accommodation. Only certain information may be requested, and placing undue demands on a person requesting an accommodation can land an association in hot water (read: lawsuit). For that reason, we always recommend that associations consult with an experienced attorney when they are presented with a request for accommodation, or an exception to their pet policy.
In conclusion: associations are increasingly being saddled with requests that they make exceptions to their pet policies. While there are surely legitimate reasons to make such exceptions, it seems that some individuals are horsing around, and there is abuse of the process as well. Until the court system has taken the reins to address cases of abuse, there is significant risk and uncertainty for association clients, and they should address requests for accommodations carefully.
Berlin Patten Ebling, PLLC
Article Authored by Dan Guarnieri, Esq. firstname.lastname@example.org
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