"There’s Nothing Like a Dog to Raise the Spirits…"

Regular readers of this post know that I have opinions about what I consider to be legitimate and illegitmate requests for service dogs. United States Senator [delayed] Al Franken also appears to have some views on service dogs:

Feeling confused? It’s a tough issue. Legitimate service dogs and animals of all types should be liberally allowed. That having been said, I see a lot of what I think is abuse on the alleged need for service animals.

Pet, or Service Animal? (Again…)

A new Florida Federal District Court case has some good reasoning and guidance dealing with the pet vs. service animal distinction, and how an association should respond to requests for a service animal accommodation.

The case, Hawn v. Shoreline Towers Phase 1 Condominium Association, involved the Davis C. Hawn’s assertion that his Labrador retriever, Booster, was a service animal who was “dually trained to help [Mr. Hawn] both physically and psychologically.

Booster was originally introduced to the association’s board as a “pet”, and Mr. Hawn sought a six month trial period “to give folks a chance to prove that they love their pets as onel would love any other family member.” There’s no evidence that the association did anything in response to this letter, but about a year later, Mr. Hawn sought permission to keep Booster as his “service animal”. His letter asserted physical and psychological disabilities, supported by a letter from a psychologist and a chiropractor.

The association thereafter attempted on two different occasions to get more information regarding Mr. Hawn’s alleged handicap; no further information was provided. As a result, the association sent a letter stating “at this time, we must deny your request…”; Mr. Hawn responded by filing a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR). The FHCR ultimately found in favor of Mr. Hawn; following that, he filed his claim in the Florida Federal District Court, alleging violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act and the intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress.

The defendants moved for summary judgment, contending that Haws had failed to meet his burdens. The court, while assuming that Hawns was handicapped, found for the association based upon the fact that the association had no knowledge or reason to know that he was, in fact handicapped. The court noted that the association had never denied the accommodation, but rather had twice requested — unsuccessfully — to obtain additional evidence of the handicap and/or the need for the accommodation.

The court, in its opinion, reviewed and relied extensively upon a Hawaii case of several years ago, Prindable v. Association of Apartment Owners of 2987 Kalakaua, 304 F.Supp.2d 1245 (D. Hawaii 2003), affirmed, Dubois v. Association of Apartment Owners of 2987 Kalakaua, 453 F.3d 1175 (9th Cir. 2006). The Prindable/Dubois case, like this case, involved a patient association which sought, unsuccessfully, to receive medical evidence to support the need for an alleged service animal.

Haws provides strong support for associations’ rights to request competent evidence for the need for a requested service animal. In those instances where the need for a service animal is not obvious, associations can and should insist upon adequate and appropriate medical evidence, so that legitimate requests for accommodation are granted, and unwarranted requests are denied.

I Saw This One Coming…

A Sacramento woman has been ordered not to bring her “service pit bull” to classes at the American River College; she says he gives her “protection” and a thirty minute advance warning of epileptic seizures; she also alleges “he’s been certified through the county as a service animal”. County officials dispute that, saying that they don’t certify service animals.

My source is this story; if I find more on this controversy, I’ll post it.

Service Animals, Revisited Again

A recent edition of the New York Times Magazine included a rather lenghty, but interesting and (I thought) balanced article on the controversy surrounding companion animals.

The article addresses a number of service and companion species, including miniature horses, monkeys, goats, parrots, iguanas and ducks. The article addresses the Justice Department’s proposed rulemaking respecting the Americans With Disabilities Act. As regular readers know, the ADA does not apply to most community associations. The applicable act in the community association realm is the Fair Housing Act, and it has many similarities, but also significant differences.

Because many courts and most owners don’t draw a distinction between the ADA and the FHA, however, and because the issues in the article apply to both Acts, I recommend it to those who are interested in the issues. Please remember, however, that the article deals with the ADA, and the rights and responsibilities of associations and residents under the FHA differ greatly from the rights and responsibilities of providers and customers under the ADA.

Beware of (Service) Dogs

Once again, I’ve had a unit owner approach an association board with an assertion that his otherwise prohibited dog is a “companion animal”, and thus must be allowed to reside in the association, with its owner, despite the association’s prohibition against dogs.

This request has a new twist, however; the dog is a “registered sevice dog”, and has a certificate — suitable for framing — to show it.

The certificate was obtained from http://www.registeredservicedogs.com, a site that provides, upon payment of $51.45, “downloadable forms” that can be completed and returned for a certificate. I don’t know what the forms require, because I wasn’t willing to pay the money, but the existence of the site reaffirms my suspicion that “service animals” are becoming more popular, and associations need to be aware of their rights on this issue.

The site, like many similar sites, sets forth a summary of rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The owner in question, like many owners, assumes that these ADA rights apply to them. The owner is wrong. Those rights may allow him to take his companion dog to breakfast at Denny’s, but they don’t have any application to his breakfasts at home.

Unit owners and occupants do have certain rights respecting “service animals”, but the rights of owners and tenants arise from the Fair Housing Act, and those rights differ from the rights under the ADA. Because this issue arises more and more often, I thought it would be helpful to provide a short summary on the topic.

The case law in this area is still developing, but it appears as though the courts will uphold an association’s right, in the case of service animals (and particularly in the subclass of “companion animals”), to determine (1) the legitimacy and general nature of the disability, and (2) the animal’s ability to assist with the disability.

I recently prepared a policy for a local association; this policy was adopted in tandem with their general policy regarding animals. The policy, which should be considered as an example only, is available