Condo Media - May 2018 - 16

Asked & Answered

Pet Peeves

How to Handle Delicate Pet Ownership Issues

Our community has a strict no-pet policy, stated
clearly in our bylaws. An owner has, nonetheless,
asked the board for permission to have a dog, which
he says he needs to cope with a post-traumatic stress
disorder. His letter to the board included a note from
his doctor confirming that condition and stating that
a dog will help mitigate its symptoms. Our question:
Does the board have to grant the owner's request, and
if so, what restrictions, if any, can we impose to limit
the negative impacts on other owners?

Many condominium questions require nuanced explanations, producing "yes, but" answers rather than a definitive reply. This isn't one of them. As Pamela Jonah, a
partner with Marcus, Errico, Emmer & Brooks explains:
State and federal fair housing laws require housing
providers, including condominium associations, to offer
"reasonable accommodations" to residents who have
physical or emotional disabilities that "substantially
limit one or more major life activities." If the resident
has a disability meeting that description, Jonah says,
the board must approve the owner's request.
There are a few caveats. The owner must provide a
letter from a medical professional documenting the
emotional disability the owner claims. Boards often
assume the letter must come from a psychiatrist, but
that's not the case, Jonah notes. "Verification can come
from a physician, a psychologist, a social worker, or
another mental health professional." The professional
isn't required to identify the disability, she explains; only
to affirm that the individual suffers from one and that
the animal the owner is requesting will alleviate one or
more of the symptoms. If all of these conditions are met,
Jonah says, "there is no question that the association
must grant the accommodation."
The association can impose reasonable restrictions
on the animal, Jonah says-but the operative word is
reasonable. For example, you could insist the dog be
leashed when walking in common areas, require the
owner to clean up after the animal, and specify where
in common areas the animal may and may not relieve
itself. You could also specify that the animal may not

16

CONDOMEDIA

be a nuisance to other residents. Excessive barking and
aggressive behavior would both qualify as nuisances that
might provide grounds for a court order removing the
animal from the property, Jonah says.
But there are many things the board can't do,
she emphasizes, among them:
■ You can't charge a pet fee. Emotional support animals
are considered assistance animals, not pets.
■ You can't bar the animal from some areas, for example, from the lobby or the exercise room.
■ You can't impose restrictions that make it difficult
for the owner to have a pet. One rule courts rejected
required a condominium owner to carry her dog in
the elevator, hallways, and other common areas. The
dog in question was a German Shepard weighing more
than the owner, who lived in a high-rise.
■ You can't fine an owner for having an illegal pet while
the board decides whether to grant an accommodation.
■ You can't reject specific breeds (pit bulls, for example),
but you may be able to negotiate the type and size
animal the owner needs.
Jonah has one more bit of advice: "Don't sit on an
accommodation request." Acknowledge it immediately
and in writing. "Silence can be deemed a denial," Jonah
notes. "While the board is delaying its response, the
owner will probably be filing a complaint with HUD
or with the MCAD."



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Condo Media - May 2018

Contents
Condo Media - May 2018 - Cover1
Condo Media - May 2018 - Cover2
Condo Media - May 2018 - Contents
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Condo Media - May 2018 - Cover3
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