R.S. from St. Johns County, Florida writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
There is a renter who likely has a fake “support dog” that tried to attack me 5 times. Our HOA says no pets for renters thus the fake need for a support dog. We hired an attorney to demand the renter prove he has professional medical need for the “support” dog – there is no visible disability – plus the renter screams at older women calling them degrading names whenever he wants to. The HOA did not respond to my lawyer; the Community Association Manager did not respond; the home owner did not respond; the police say it’s an HOA matter; animal control will not act. My wife and I are retired and both of us are a wreck and anxious all the time. What do we do? We need a new lawyer too because he doesn’t know what to do either. Please, please help! thank you.
Mister Condo replies:
R.S., Emotional Support Animals (ESA) are a source of anxiety and problems in many condominiums, apartments, and really any place where people live close to each other. There has been and continues to be great controversy over what, exactly, is an ESA. As you have seen first-hand, a “no pets” rule is completely ineffective against preventing a resident, even a renter, from having as ESA because an ESA is not a pet. Additionally, you cannot ask for “professional” proof that an ESA is needed without risking a lawsuit from the resident. A letter from a friend or relative satisfies the “proof” that an ESA is needed. I suspect that is why you aren’t satisfied with the answers you are getting from those who you think can help you. An animal attacking you is a different matter. If you or your spouse have been attacked, your attorney should be able to bring a civil suit against the ESA’s owner. I am not an attorney and offer no legal advice in this column but I do know that ESA or not, the owner is responsible for the ESA’s behavior. Approach the problem from that angle and see if you don’t get a better outcome. Don’t expect the HOA to do too much as their hands are tied. This is a civil matter between you and the resident. All the best!
3 thoughts on “HOA’s “No Pets” Rule Skirted by Condo Renter’s ESA”
You can go to the regular police. Try to piece together the times the dog came at you as detailed as you can, and the dates. Once the owner realizes they have to keep their dog under control at all times, they may start to take it more seriously, they can’t be casual about it. They will have their own “story” to tell the police, so brace for them saying something you didn’t anticipate. It could be because your concern had everything jumbled together with the ESA issue, etc., the danger of being bitten or similar got diluted. You could also include the yelling at the older women, see if anyone will be a witness with you. But you do not have to endure an animal making you scared because it is growling, baring teeth, or coming at you, etc. Every time it happens, file a new police report, and hopefully it will get much better asap. If you have a cell phone, keep it on you when you could encounter the dog, hopefully in a non-confrontational, non-obvious, non-provoking manner, such as tucked in your pocket, so you won’t be accused of “triggering” an incident, and have it pre-set to record video. If you would feel more comfortable to have an attorney help you through the process, and also file a lawsuit if need be, look up your area’s chapter of CAI for service professionals, and check for attorneys who will represent a unit owner.
I thought every State has a law about providing a document from a medical professional stating just that the person requires an ESA?
TKO, not by a long shot! While state laws vary, federal statutes trump state laws. Consult with the association attorney before requiring a professional medical statement. In most instances, a statement from a caregiver or family member will satisfy the requirement to document the need. Asking for anything more may be a violation of the unit owner’s rights. All the best!