G.P. from outside of Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
We are condo owners who hired a manager to rent out our condo. He lied about a German Shepherd in our rental…above weight restriction. As owners, we had no idea the dog was in our rental. The condo association wanted the dog gone, hired a lawyer, etc… Back & forth for five months with renters. They got a doctor’s note and hired a lawyer, claiming the animal was an emotional support animal for depression. The condo association continued with the lawyer and lawyer’s fees after receiving the doctor’s note/lawyer’s letter. Now the condo association is coming after us for the lawyer fees…$1500! Our property manager & ourselves no longer have a contract. HELP. We are caught between the renters & the condo association.
Mister Condo replies:
G.P., the courts around the country have not taken kindly to HOAs aggressively going after condo dwellers who present doctor’s notes in support of animals that are classified as Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). I am not sure what you mean by “coming after us” for the lawyer’s fees run up by the association or if these fees predate the ESA letter presented by the tenants. Until that letter was presented, the lawyer’s fees may be justified and you may be liable. Rental agent or not, the association’s rules were being broken up until that point and the association has a right to pursue remedy for their legal expenses against you, the unit owner. However, once the doctor’s note was presented, all legal activities should have stopped. If the attorney’s fees the association is trying to collect are for bills from the attorney for hours spent after the note was presented, you should refuse to pay that portion of the bill. As a matter of contract, you may be able to sue the rental agent for renting the unit to a dog owner in violation of the rental terms, but only for the amount of damages in attorney’s fees levied against you before the doctor’s note was presented.
I realize that all of this sounds confusing and, since I am not an attorney, my advice to you is to hire an attorney if you need to. My first instinct would be to refuse to pay these fees and see how serious the association is about pursuing a remedy against you. Once all of the facts are known about the timeframe of these attorney fees, you will know whether or not you have a legal leg to stand on. Also, the amount in question may be easier to pay and write off than to fight. This is a business decision you can make once all of the facts are known. Either way, this should be a good lesson to learn regarding future rental of your unit. Allow no pets and make sure that any ESA that will reside in the unit is well-document so that the association cannot challenge the animal’s eligibility to live in the unit. All the best!