Time was, if you said that a co-op or condo building was ‘going to the dogs,’ it was a bad association. However, these days, that’s not entirely the case. According to the American Pet Products Association, 39 percent of all U.S. households own at least one dog, and 33 percent own at least one cat. This is why many condos and HOAs in South Florida and around the country have started becoming more welcoming to pets and man’s best friend.
However, not everyone in condo communities are as enthusiastic. Pets bring noise, aggression and mess to a building, and homeowners with preexisting phobias or allergies may not take so kindly to their presence.
So, how do the bipeds and the quadrupeds get along? Experts cite a combination of courtesy, responsibility, accommodation, and respect; not just on behalf of the pet owners, but of everyone in the community.
Pets and the Law
An issue that can complicate the implementation of pet ordinances is the subject of ‘companion animal’. No one can argue against the necessity of seeing-eye dog, or one that is trained to respond to emergency situations, but other claims can start to seem questionable. With such a broad interpretation, ‘animal companionship’ can start to sound a lot like pet ownership.
According to South Florida condo attorney Gary Poliakoff, a founding shareholder of the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff in Fort Lauderdale, recent HUD rulings say that a prescription for an emotional support animal may come from a “physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional.” In Florida, “other mental health professionals” include licensed mental health counselors, clinical psychologists, clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists.
According to Barry M. Silver, an attorney in Boca Raton, who deals with animal-related cases as a part of his regular practice, the law regarding medically-prescribed companion animals is evolving. “Nowadays, many courts are accepting psychological companionship as something that can be considered medically necessary as well,” he says. “It’s been clearly established that love, affection and companionship are absolutely necessary to the human condition, and people will greatly benefit from that. Pets seem to give unconditional love, they don’t remember if you do something wrong, and they don’t care about your faults. So many people consider non-humans to be wonderful companions, [with] a great psychological benefit for people who are dealing with difficult things like depression, or other psychological ailments. So very often doctors prescribe companionship.”
Refusing to honor a resident’s legitimate companion-animal prescription can have serious legal consequences for a board, says Silver. “If they refuse, they could be inviting a lawsuit. Many people think if you get involved in a lawsuit over an animal the financial aspect is going to be small, but of course, people who are involved with co-op and condos know…the price of challenging a resident’s right to own a pet or companion animal can be very high. It can be an expensive proposition.”
If HOAs and boards adopt rules such as registering the pet with the management office, providing proof of ownership, and recent vaccinations, then all sides can be satisfied. Most pets and their owners are well-behaved and peaceful; thus, having a non-punitive pet policy ensures the positive benefits of pet companionship, without any unnecessary acrimony or fallout.