Question: My husband and I are considering moving to a condo but we are worried that the rules may prohibit my son's dog, Doc, from moving with us. Doc is a beagle mix who has been trained to alert us if our son, Bobby, is having a seizure. We'd really like to use the condo because my parents left it to us but we can't even consider it if Doc can't come also. What should we do?
Answer: Service animals, sometimes referred to as "support animals" and "therapy animals," are a healthcare option that many individuals use to help them and their families overcome the limitations imposed by disabilities. These animals are used in guiding visually impaired individuals, alerting hearing impaired persons to sounds, providing protection or rescue assistance, pulling a wheelchair, seeking and retrieving items, alerting individuals to impending seizures and providing emotional support to persons who have a disability related need for such support.
Many community associations have rules prohibiting or minimizing the size of pets. The first step is to determine exactly what the rules of your condo's association are. There may not be any problem at all, especially if any of the documents specifically mention service animals.
The Fair Housing Act protects individuals who have disabilities as defined by the Act but in order to be protected, the person must actually have a disability. Also, the animal must serve a function directly related to the person's disability and the request to have the service animal must be reasonable. Your son's disability seems clear and your request reasonable.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also addresses public housing pet ownership regulations for certain animals that provide assistance or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.
There has been some debate about what constitutes "providing emotional support" but association management should understand that this debate does not apply to your son's seizure disorder. The board would most likely not even object to Doc if you certify, in writing, that a member of your family is a person with a disability, the animal has been trained to assist with that specific disability and the animal actually assists you and your son in dealing with Bobby's disorder.
You may want to seek the advice of an attorney if your initial conversations with the management company or the board suggests that they don't understand or don't believe that Doc is really a service animal.
Attorney Sylvia Heldreth is a certified specialist in real estate law. Her office is located at 1215 Miramar St., in Cape Coral.
This article is not intended as specific legal advice to anyone and is based upon facts that change from time to time. Individuals should seek legal counsel before acting upon any matter involving the law.