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How to get an Emotional Support Animal in a HOA

On Behalf of | Dec 14, 2015

Securing an Emotional Support Animal In a “No-Pets” Condominium or Apartment: Five Important Things to Know.

Florida is a wonderful place to live. It is the land of sunshine and oranges. It is also the land of condominiums and apartments. Condo and apartment living can be wonderful, but it means following the rules. Many times those rules include following a “no-pets” policy. There are of course, exceptions for service animals – those animals that assist those using wheelchairs, are blind, etc. The medical community has long recognized the benefits that service animals can play in assisting physically disabled individuals. But research also shown that companion animals can provide emotional support to help people with mental or emotional impairments.But what happens if you live in housing that where the landlord or association enforces a “no pets” policy and a you need an emotional support animal? The good news is that the law will generally require a landlord or association to make an exception or, a “reasonable accommodation,” to allow the tenant or resident with a disability to use and enjoy the dwelling. This includes not just physical disabilities, but mental and emotional disabilities. This federal law, the Fair Housing Act (FHA), makes it illegal for a landlord or a condominium or homeowners’ association in both public and private housing to discriminate against a person because a person has a physical or mental disability. Discrimination against a disabled person can include denial of emotional support animals in housing. Here are five important things you need to know about securing an emotional support animal.

1. What is an emotional support animal (also called “assistance animal”)?

It is important to understand that an emotional support animal is not a pet, but is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. The person seeking the emotional support animal must have a verifiable disability – it cannot just be a need for companionship. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses the term “assistance animal” to cover any animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability

2. Does the Fair Housing Act (FHA) apply to all housing?

The FHA applies to almost all housing types, including those for sale or rent. This includes apartments, condominiums, and single family homes. However, there are exceptions such as buildings with four or fewer units where the landlord lives in one of the units. The law also excludes private owners who do not own more than three single family homes, do not use real estate agents or brokers, and do not engage in discriminatory advertising practices.

3. Does an emotional support animal need specialized training?

HUD defines an emotional support animal as an animal that “provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.” Emotional support animals do not need specialized training. HUD states that, “[f]or purposes of reasonable accommodation requests, neither the FHA nor Section 504 requires an assistance animal to be individually trained or certified.” (See, FHEO Notice: FHEO-2013-01 at page 2).

4. What documentation do I need to provide to have an emotional support animal/assistance animal?

If a person needs an emotional support animal they must first make the request to his or her landlord or condominium association. HUD states that housing providers can ask individuals who have disabilities that are not readily apparent or known to the provider to submit reliable documentation of a disability and their disability-related need for an assistance animal.

5. Can a landlord or housing provider ask details about your disability?

No! A landlord or housing provider can ask for documentation of the disability-related need for the assistance animal, but they cannot ask personal medical details. HUD specifically states that a housing provider “may not ask an applicant or tenant to provide access to medical records or medical providers or provide detailed or extensive information or documentation of a person’s physical or mental impairments.”I have had the pleasure to assist clients with securing an emotional support animal where they live, even though the condominiums, apartment, or homeowners’ association have been “no-pets allowed.” As an added precaution, in addition to helping secure the correct documentation from the client’s doctor, I also send a letter to the landlord/association, educating them on the law. Most landlords/associations respect these documents. However, if they refuse to permit the animal, you can file a lawsuit in state or federal court. According to the U.S. Department of Justice website, a lawsuit based on housing discrimination must be filed within one year from the date of the incident.If you feel that you may have an Emotional Support Animal (assistance animal) matter, contact Asselta Law today for a free consultation with Richard Asselta, knowledgeable Animal Law Attorney. Asselta Law concentrates in Education Law and Animal Law, as well as Appeals. Asselta Law represents clients throughout the state of Florida and the United States. Credit cards accepted. Affordable payment plans available.754-701-7014