A short while ago we wrote a blog piece on the issues relating to community associations regulating service animals. In that blog we noted that the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) “permits individuals with disabilities to keep an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation when there are limitations imposed by the homeowner or condominium association on animals and pets.” In Broward County, Florida, that county’s Civil Rights Division filed suit against a condominium association for violating the FHA by refusing to consider a person’s request for an “emotional servant animal,” a chihuahua.
In the lawsuit, the County alleges that the resident
- suffered from a number of medical conditions, including severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder;
- received a doctor’s recommendation that she obtain an emotional support animal;
- that the resident acquired a small dog as an emotional support animal; and
- that the resident submitted copies of medical records indicating her need for the requested accommodation.
The association refused to permit the resident to keep the chihuahua because of its no-pet policy.
As we suggested in our blog, your homeowners association could have legal problems denying a reasonable request that complies with the FHA unless the association can show that
- the assistance animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others;
- that the animal will cause substantial damage to the property of others, and such threats or damage cannot be reduces or eliminated; or
- that allowing the assistance animal poses an undue financial or administrative burden or fundamentally alters the nature of the housing program or services.
In this Broward County case, the association now faces the costs of litigation and the poor publicity that it brings. We repeat our admonition for HOAs: for those requests that are difficult or cause concern to the association, the association should consult an experienced homeowner association law firm immediately rather than risk any delays that may result in a Fair Housing complaint.
UPDATE: This case settled in April, 2012. The dismissal order did not indicate how the parties resolved the matter. Nonetheless, each party spent over a year in litigation, and agreed to pay their own attorneys’ fees.
Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law
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