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Assistance animals must be allowed in most areas

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Ryan Poliakoff

Dear Poliakoffs,

We are a condominium directly on the intercoastal and are having an ongoing debate about emotional support and service animals. Our documents say “no dogs” but our attorney says we have to allow them due to ADA and federal housing laws. We have designed an area within our fenced community to take the dogs to relieve themselves and supply bags for picking up feces in the designated area. We require the animal to be leashed but owners do not always comply. Seems like everyone buying or renting a condo these days needs a support animal. The question is: Are these animals, by law, allowed to travel anywhere on the property that the owner of the animal is allowed to go? For example, walking on the seawall and adjoining grass area with benches, the pool area, anywhere in the parking lot, elevator and laundry rooms? Where exactly does the state of Florida stand on this continuously growing issue?

Signed, RD

Dear RD,

First, and for clarity, your condominium is almost certainly not subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA). The ADA governs places of public accommodation, and unless you invite the public to the condominium for events, you would not be subject to that law. Instead, you are subject to the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination against disabled persons. You are obliged to make “reasonable” accommodations of your rules to afford a disabled person the full use and enjoyment of the property. One of those reasonable accommodations is to allow them to have an animal assistance, even if you have a “no pet” rule, if one is necessary as a result of their disability. This animal does not need to be specially trained in any way, and it does not even need to be a typical companion animal, like a dog or a cat — it must only be verified (usually by a treating medical provider, such as a doctor , therapist or social worker) to be necessary to afford the person the full use and enjoyment of the premises. Once an animal has been so verified, it really should be allowed to go anywhere the resident is allowed to go, with limited exceptions — that is the express nature of the law. Now, there are certainly some guidelines you could implement that would be considered “reasonable” —for example I do not think you need to allow an animal to swim in your pool as it likely violates a number of health laws. But, I also think limiting such animals to only the resident’s unit and the dog walking area would likely be subject to challenge.