All owners need to circumvent the no-pet rule is a prescription or letter from a doctor stating that the owner has a disability and needs such an animal.
QUESTION: We have a no pet rule in our condominium association. Recently, one of the owners presented the condo board with a letter from her doctor stating that she needed a dog for emotional support. The board voted to allow her to have a dog, but I feel this is just going to open the door to more owners trying to get around the no pet rule. Was the board correct in allowing her to have a dog and is there anything we can do to stop other owners from doing the same thing?
ANSWER: Unfortunately, “emotional support” animals seem to be a growing trend among people who say they need an assistance animal due to a mental or physical disability.
Unlike service animals, which are trained to perform tasks, assistance animals, also called emotional support or therapy animals, mostly provide comfort and companionship. The number of these so-called assistance or support animals has grown considerably in recent years.
All owners need to circumvent the no-pet rule is a prescription or letter from a doctor stating that the owner has a disability and needs such an animal. The person does not need to divulge the nature of his/her disability or how the animal will assist. True service animals are permitted in public buildings and spaces.
Federal fair housing laws also permit assistance animals in no pet buildings if a proper request for accommodation is made. Unfortunately, many able-bodied people seem to be viewing this as a loophole enabling them to get around no pet bans. As the number of requests for assistance animals has skyrocketed, it has detracted from the true intent of such animals that is to help people with true mental and physical disabilities. I’m sure many requesting an assistance animal may actually need such an animal, but the sheer number of such requests has raised suspicions.
Condo associations have little recourse except to grant such requests if they are properly made, although the association may want to pass the request on to its attorney just to make sure the request is legit and the association is not discriminating against any protected class. Associations cannot restrict breeds or animal size. But they can pass rules regarding the behavior of such animals and hold their owners liable for any damage they cause to the premises or other owners.
As for owners who specifically chose a no pet building because of severe pet allergies or phobias and how their rights stack up against owners who say they need an assistance animal because of a disability – it is not clear. But I smell a lawsuit.
Linda Goodspeed is a longtime real estate writer and author of “In and Out of Darkness.” Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.