Community Associations are Entitled to Request More Information When Determining Whether to Grant Animal Accommodation
Community Associations are often confronted with requests to keep animals on the property as a reasonable accommodation pursuant to the various Fair Housing Acts . This issue is frequently addressed in newspaper articles and television as well as national magazines. As Kevin’s post from March 17th aptly stated:
the owner needs to provide documentation that he/she suffers from a disability or handicap. This needs to come from a licensed medical professional. The physician must state that the disability involves a substantial impairment in one or more of life’s major functions. In addition, the physician should explain how the animal is needed to overcome or deal with the substantial impairment of a life function.
When an owner or resident does not receive the answer they desire from the Board or Management, filing a discrimination claim with the local enforcement agency is usually the next step. Unfortunately, the investigations seems to lean heavily in favor of the complainants and determinations of “reasonable cause” that a discriminatory act occurred naturally upset community leaders, especially in cases when the members of the board followed the advice of counsel and truly believe they have not engaged in any wrongdoing. At that point the board members often “give in” and negotiate for accommodations that are not believed to be warranted under the circumstances (possibly opening the floodgates for additional requests), usually to avoid the expenses associated with challenging the determination. Some of the consternation expressed by board members (and other community residents) results from the apparent lack of specificity required on the part of the person requesting the accommodation. Websites have sample letters and forms for physicians and other medical providers to fill out for the purpose of enabling patients to request prescription pets. Investigative agencies reportedly have “approved” these forms. While community leaders and other residents complain about how easy it is to have a medical provider write a letter prescribing a pet as a necessary accommodation, boards don’t have many choices available if the letter, or prescription, contains the information required by law. In fact, some of the investigative agencies have issued a finding of “reasonable cause” solely as a result of an Association’s request for more detailed information concerning the major life function impairments and how the animal will lessen the effect of those impairments. Recently, however, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida granted summary judgment in favor of a condominium association that requested more information from someone requesting a pet accommodation. In Hawn v. Shoreline Towers Phase I Condominium Association, Inc., et al, the Court found that the person requesting the accommodation “failed to establish that the board knew the accommodation was necessary” because he did not provide sufficient information about the major life functions that were claimed to be impaired nor did he adequately described how the pet was necessary to overcome those impairments. As this is an important ruling for community associations, I will post a casenote to this blog explaining the facts and the ruling in detail.