C.H. from New Haven County, Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I understand that under Connecticut law, no specific breed of dog can be banned from a condo complex. We are a 70-unit complex that has banned the four most dangerous breeds of dogs, including the Pit Bull. We have an owner who has a pit bull that has been viewed outside the garage unleashed once, and running down the street another time. The owner now has taken to leaving the dog’s feces on his upper deck. It is also claimed to be a “comfort” dog.
The board has sent the owner letters, called him in three times, and he sent a relative the first time, and ignored the next two appointments. During the first meeting, several months ago his “representative” agreed to submit the papers for the dog’s “comfort” status, but has not been able to produce them.
We have contacted the town, and they state that because we are a private property, they cannot and will not address the leashing issue unless the dog is on their streets.
What recourse do we have regarding the lack of comfort dog paperwork and the owner’s irresponsibility regarding not cleaning up after the dog and keeping it secured? Did I mention that we are an over 55 community, and many residents walk in good weather, and others in walkers and wheelchairs do go out when they can? Must we wait for someone to be frightened into a heart attack or maimed before we can get help?
My understanding is that while apartment houses and assisted living facilities limit type of dog, why can’t we? Do our residents have to get gun permits to protect themselves if they want to use the streets that we maintain ourselves as a condo complex?
Mister Condo replies:
C.H., welcome to the age of the Emotional Support Animal (ESA). First off, you need to tread very carefully here. The owner is not claiming to have a dog, which you could regulate. This owner has claimed that he has an Emotional Support Animal (ESA), which you cannot. At least, not currently. There are legal battles across the country over the validity of any animal’s status as ESA. Until such time as the Fair Housing Administration changes the status of ESA to pet, all housing authorities (including condos, apartments, and HOAs) need to respect the right of owners to have ESAs. In fact, acting against a resident who claims they have an ESA could land the association in great deal of legal trouble and even a lawsuit. If you haven’t already done so, check with your community association attorney for professional advice on how to handle the owner. There are steps you can take to protect fellow unit owners but it is very likely that the unit owner will be able to keep his ESA. You can still impose leash restrictions and clean-up penalties but you cannot simply forbid the ESA. ESAs have frustrated well-meaning housing authorities nationwide. Perhaps you have heard some extreme cases of folks bringing ESAs like peacocks on domestic flights. The courts seem to be applying more reasonable measures to determine what constitutes and ESA but until then, I strongly recommend against you insisting on proof that the ESA is needed. All that is currently needed is a claim that the animal is an ESA and is needed by the resident. They do not need medical proof or any professional recommendation at this time. In fact, seeking proof from them can be considered harassment so be very careful. Speak with your association attorney and take the correct steps to protect your fellow community members. Good luck!