Q: I live in a condominium. Recently a disabled friend was coming to visit with her emotional support animal. The front desk would not let her up, stating that because she was not a resident, they did not have to allow her in with her dog. Is this legal? -- Toni
A: No, your association violated the law when the front desk blocked your friend. Emotional support animals are not pets. Rather, they are animals that provide therapeutic benefits to disabled people.
The Fair Housing Act protects not only residents but disabled people associated with residents. Part of the stated purpose of the law was to prevent discrimination against people "because they have children, parents, friends, spouses, roommates, patients, subtenants, or other associates who have disabilities."
This does not mean that your association has to allow anyone with an animal into the building. They have the right to take reasonable steps to verify that the person has a disability that requires the animal. For example, if a visually impaired person is being helped by a service animal, no additional verification would be required, but the front desk could ask for proof from someone without an obvious disability.
When the guest produces a letter from her doctor, management may not second-guess the diagnosis.
There are a few bad apples who abuse the rules, but it is important not to lose focus of the fact that most people with support animals are genuinely disabled.
It is illegal and, of course, wrong to discriminate against anyone. The next time you get annoyed because someone has a support animal where you are not used to seeing one, try to remember that the therapeutic benefits of that dog may be the only reason that person was able to live a somewhat normal life at all.
About The Writer
Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at www.sunsentinel.com/askpro or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.
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