Emotional Support Animals: Understanding Tenants Rights and Reasonable Accommodations

Time: February 6, 2018 by

Q&A – THE COOPERATOR

Q:  I live in a 40-unit condo building, which has a NO PET AMENDMENT from 1980.  A woman purchased a unit on 4-07-17 and has been seen with a dog, and the dog barks all the time. She signed all the disclosure forms stating (NO PETS, NO renters), and has given the Board a note from a Nurse Practitioner, that the dog is an emotional support dog. What can we do?  

A:   Unfortunately there are Individuals that abuse the right to have a service animal or emotional support animal.

Certain individuals that have disabilities are afforded rights and protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Federal and Florida Fair Housing Acts (FHA) with regard to service animals.  Don’t confuse a “service animal” from an “emotion support animal.”

These are two very different categories.  The ADA defines a service animal as a dog that has been specifically trained to work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.

Emotional Support Animals are not Service Animals, but there are psychiatric service animals.

Dogs that are trained to detect and lessen an anxiety attack are examples of service dogs for these types of disabilities.

Reasonable Accommodations

The ADA applies to places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants.

However, the ADA does not apply to condominium associations or homeowners’ associations, unless the association permits public, or functions as a hotel.

For example, if the association allows stays of 30 days or less or other characteristics of a hotel….

Associations are almost always governed by the Federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), which prohibits discrimination against disabled persons in housing.

If a “housing provider”, which includes condominium and homeowner’s associations, refuses to make a “reasonable accommodation” in its rules, policies, practices or services, or refuses to allow an owner to make a “reasonable modification” when such accommodation or modification may be necessary to afford a handicapped person an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling or the common areas associated with the dwelling.

Then a handicapped individual may be entitled to keep an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation if the person has a real handicap and there is a nexus between the handicap and the assistance the animal.

Understanding Tenants Rights is key to Avoiding Law Suits

Unfortunately, I’ve had several association clients faced with homeowners and tenants that abuse this area; the law favors protecting the rights of people who want pets in “no pet” communities regardless if those people have lied on their requests to have an animal as a necessity for emotional support.

The rights of people, unfortunately, who specifically purchased a home in a pet-restricted community due to allergies or other health problems, are not protected by the government, and as a result the board is estopped from protecting their rights.

Even though Fair Housing continues to remove most of an association’s ability to properly evaluate an emotional support animal request, the ultimate accommodation must still be reasonable. So, remember, the key question is “Is it a reasonable request?”  It is important for the board to contact their legal counsel when a service animal or emotional support animal request comes through.

The association could face a federal discrimination lawsuit if a reasonable accommodation request is denied.

Contact Us

Contact an FL Legal Group HOA/Condo Association attorney If you have any questions related to this issue.

call 1-800-984-9951 or click here to send a message to us.