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ONE MAN'S BATTLE AGAINST CONDO ASSOCIATION TO KEEP HIS SERVICE DOG

South Florida condominium owner, Alexander Warren, and the Delvista Tower Condominium Association have been battling in and out of court over Warren's service dog for the last year. Warren was diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder and severe recurrent depression. His doctor recommended the use of a service dog and sent a letter to the association requesting that they make a reasonable accommodation for his service dog, despite having a no-dog policy. When the association failed to bend the rules and accommodate the service animal, Warren hired lawyers and filed suit claiming violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and discrimination against a disabled resident. On July 29, 2014, a federal district court in Miami ruled that altering a "no-pet" policy is considered a reasonable accommodation under the FHA.

In court, the association argued that Warren's request was "per se unreasonable because it was a pit bull, and pit bull dogs are banned by ordinance in Miami-Dade County." They also contended that his pit bull was dangerous, regardless of whether it met the criteria for a support dog. Warren countered that applying breed restrictions to a request for reasonable accommodation under the FHA was in direct contradiction to rulings and notices issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

Judge Jose Martinez agreed. "The HUD rulings and notices make clear that an emotional support animal need not be specifically trained, because the symptoms the animal ameliorates are mental and emotional, rather than physical. . . In the present case, if the county ordinance were enforced, it would violate the FHA by permitting a discriminatory housing practice. In failing to grant plaintiff's request to live with his assistance animal because of the dog's alleged breed, plaintiff is not afforded an equal opportunity to use and enjoy his dwelling," Martinez wrote.

The court noted that under HUD, a request for a service animal can be denied if the animal's behavior poses a direct threat and if its owner takes no effective action to control the animal's behavior. The FHA requires a significant risk, not a remote or speculative risk, to deny a request for an assistance animal. In either case, the rules require that before denying a request for accommodation, the animal's behavior must be evaluated. Something that was not done in the present case. Therefore, the court held that under the FHA, altering the "no-pet" policy to accommodate Warren's service animal was considered a reasonable accommodation.

Warren v. Delvista Towers Condominium Association, Inc., No. 13-23074-CIV-MARTINEZ-GOODMAN (S.D. Fla. July 29, 2014)

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