Florida Condominium Laws on Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals
By Megan C. Goodall October 21, 2019 Posted in Community Association Law Share
Service animals and particularly emotional support animals have been something of a hot topic in recent years. It’s not just airlines wrestling with the question of who and what is allowed where, but increasingly apartment complexes and condominium associations are being asked to answer the same difficult questions. Below you will find guidance on how to approach a request for an assistance animal in a Florida condominium association.
Florida condominium associations are subject to compliance under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) and are prohibited from engaging in discrimination based on a disability. The FHA prohibits discriminating against an individual unit owner based on their personal characteristics and also with regard to their assistance animal. Breed, weight, and size restrictions are commonplace in Florida condominium associations, but those limitations do not apply to assistance animals. Before responding to a request for accommodation, it is important to analyze the applicable provisions of the FHA to ensure compliance.
Most condominium associations understand their obligation to allow assistance dogs that are mobility and guide dogs, but often fail to fully appreciate the role and importance of emotional support animals. The FHA includes emotional support animals in its definition of assistance animals. Emotional support animals assist persons with certain disabilities by providing companionship. It is important to note that the term
“assistance animal” includes far more categories of support animals than the term “service animal.” The main differences between service animals and emotional support animals are that service animals require specialized training while emotional support animals do not. While it is true that emotional support dogs can be excluded from public places like restaurants and shopping malls, this is not the case with condominium associations.
The FHA defines persons with a disability as: (1) individuals with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) individuals who are regarded as having such an impairment; and (3) individuals with a record of such impairment.
Upon receipt of an accommodation request by a unit owner, the condominium association may ask the following two questions:
(1) Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability – i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
(2) Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?
If the condominium association has reason to question a person’s disability or need for a service animal, they are permitted to request reliable documentation of a disability and their disability-related need for a service animal before the Association determines whether an accommodation is necessary. A condominium association should first check its records to see if a particular unit owner has requested an accommodation for an assistance animal. If a request has been made, the Association may inquire as to only limited aspects of the disability but may never ask for personal medical details. Based upon such inquiry, the board then determines whether the unit owner’s accommodation is necessary.
It is essential that Florida condominium associations understand the applicable provisions of the FHA to not only ensure compliance, but also to provide disabled individuals an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their dwelling like non-disabled individuals.
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