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QUESTION/ANSWER BY: JOHN H. GETTINGER, ESQ.

Question:

I live in a condo. We are having some issues with the residents moving into the building and requesting a companion dog. They say they can obtain a letter from their doctor. Please advise, your help is greatly appreciated.

Answer:

The Federal Fair Housing Act (the "Act") prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis, among other things, of disability. One type of disability discrimination prohibited by the Act is the refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.

I assume that your condominium has a "no-pets" policy prohibiting unit owners from harboring pets within their units. If a unit owner has a "disability" as defined by the Act and requires a companion dog to enjoy his or her unit, then the board has the legal obligation under the Act to provide this unit owner with a reasonable accommodation of the policy. The Act defines a person with a disability to include individuals with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. If the disability is not obvious, the board may request reliable disability-related information (a letter from a doctor) (i) verifying that the person meets the Act's definition of disability, (ii) describes the needed accommodation, and (iii) shows a relationship between the person's disability and the need for the requested accommodation.

As an example, a unit owner who is deaf requests that the board allow him to keep a dog in his unit as a reasonable accommodation to its no-pet policy. The unit owner explains that the dog is an assistance animal that will alert him to sounds (such as knocks at the door, sounding of the smoke detector and telephone rings and cars coming into the driveway). The board is required to make an exception to its no-pets policy to accommodate this unit owner.

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