Q: I understand that our association has to make reasonable accommodations for people who have support animals, but do we have to have their dogs in the clubhouse cafe and other amenities? – Brian
A: Emotional Support Animals or "ESAs" are governed by different rules than service animals, such as seeing-eye dogs. Service animals are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and receive individualized training for specific tasks for people with certain disabilities. ESAs do not require either training for tasks, but rather provide a therapeutic benefit to those in need.
ESAs are not covered by this law and are subject to the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Service animals are allowed in "public accommodations" such as restaurants, museums, hotels and stores. The definition of public accommodation is comprehensive with only minimal exceptions, such as if it poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others.
However, there can be criminal penalties for having a fake service animal. ESAs, are covered under the FHA and can be excluded from public accommodations, although many choose to allow them for customer service reasons.
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Most association clubhouses are owned by the community and are viewed more as an extension of the residents' home than as a public place. This means that your community will need to make reasonable accommodations for the ESAs as well as service animals.
Both the community and the disabled individual need to remember that the word "reasonable" is linked to "accommodation." The accommodation must be linked to the resident's needs and should not impose an undue burden on the community. It should not endanger the health and safety of the rest of the community. For example, an ESA would generally be allowed on the pool deck but not in the pool, or permitted in the cafe but only on the floor.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at www.sunsentinel.com/askpro or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.