STAYING OUT OF THE “DOG HOUSE” HOW TO HANDLE REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION REQUESTS UNDER THE FAIR HOUSING ACT
Paula S. Marra, Senior Associate
Owners living in pet restricted communities are becoming increasingly frustrated when they see other owners walking a dog or taking their dog to the pool. While it may feel like these owners are “breaking” the rules it is important to remind our frustrated owners that community associations are considered housing providers under the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Florida Fair Housing Act. Condominium associations and homeowners associations must consider and sometimes grant reasonable accommodations to a pet restriction for assistance animals, including an emotional support animal. It is important to establish policies and procedures to assure board members and property managers understand what questions can be asked and what additional information can be requested when a request for a reasonable accommodation to your association’s pet restrictions is made. Otherwise, you may find your association in the “dog house” by receiving a HUD complaint for failing to respond properly to a request for reasonable accommodation to the association’s pet restrictions.
A person with a disability who has a service animal does not need to request a reasonable accommodation to the Association’s pet restrictions when the direct work or task performed by the animal is readily observable, obvious and identifiable. A service animal cannot be denied access to any part of the association property (i.e. the dining room) unless the animal is out of control, not housebroken or poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be reduced to an acceptable level by a modification to other policies.
On the other “paw,” animals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or promote emotional well-being are not “service” animals. If the assistance animal is not defined as a “service” animal, an owner, tenant, or a guest with a disability must request a reasonable accommodation to the Association’s pet restrictions to own, rent or for access to the association property or dwelling unit. The association should consult legal counsel to determine if the request for a reasonable accommodation for an “emotional support” animal should be granted or if further supporting documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker or other mental health professional to indicate the disability and why the animal is necessary to alleviate or assist the symptoms or the disability can be requested by the association to consider the request.
Limiting, restricting or denying access for other types of assistance animals (that are not “service” animals) to the common areas and facilities must be considered on a case-by-case basis. An association should consult legal counsel prior to imposing restrictions or developing rules restricting access to assistance animals to the common areas or facilities to avoid violating Federal law by imposing an unreasonable restriction which impairs the owner or tenants use and enjoyment to the dwelling unit.
KEEP IN MIND – an association may not charge a pet deposit or any related fee for an assistance animal; the information received by the association in conjunction with a request for reasonable accommodation is not an official record; and if asked why the owner has an animal the association’s response should be limited to the owner qualifies for a reasonable accommodation to the association’s pet restrictions.
Rosenbaum PLLC represents community associations throughout Florida and focuses on condominium and homeowner association law, real estate law, civil litigation, land use and zoning, and commercial transactions. The information provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The publication of this article does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Rosenbaum PLLC, or any of our attorneys. Readers should not act or refrain from acting based upon the information contained in this article without first contacting an attorney, if you have questions about any of the issues raised herein. The hiring of an attorney is a decision that should not be based solely on advertisements or this article.