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  • Joseph DiDonato

A view from the board (part 1)

Home Owners Association (HOA) law has become a very difficult and complex area of practice. Although it is based on a simple concept of leading a group of homeowners for effective and efficient management of a particular residential building; diverse interests, politically motivated legislation and enforceability issues have caused this simple and well-meaning concept to become difficult and costly.

As a member of the Board of an HOA, it is surprising how many different issues exist that need to be addressed on a daily basis. These include, but are not limited to sourcing, maintenance, supply, regulatory, and litigation. Although further discussions will address all of these issues, a particular major source of conflict continues to be rules and regulation for emotional support animals. Over the past few years, legislation has made it very easy for the owners of “emotional support animals“ most particularly, dog owners, to enforce their rights. Though most people appreciate and are sympathetic to those who require a canine companion, a continuous tension exists with the intersection of dog owners and violation of rules for the benefit of unit owners. As a Board member, it has become imperative to establish clear and concise rules regarding the ownership and residence of “emotional support animals“ so that the interest of each unit owner can be appreciated.

The rules established by the HOA must not run afoul of local and state regulations so as to avoid litigation and unwanted publicity. Most commonly, emotional support animals are required to (1) wear an identifying vest, (2) have identification attached to a collar, and (3) always be with the owner who has registered the animal as an emotional support, and the owner is required to (4) provide proof of all medical immunizations and (5) to have proof of need by a medical professional.

These rules would seem to be easily understood and easily enforced, however, this is not what is occurring. Most particularly, the Internet has become an easy and very inexpensive way to obtain “proof of need” from a medical professional. For the most part, this has become an unregulated and abused requirement. Basically, send your request and payment and you will get the required certification. There is no assistance to establish or define the credentials of the issuing medical professional or regulatory body to certify these medical professionals, and most importantly, hold them accountable for their diagnosis. Most medical professionals have no ongoing relationship or have established a set of criteria before they provide the certification e.g. 10 hours of “one on one” therapy.

In regard to (1) wearing an identifying vest at all times, (2) having identification attached to a collar and (3) always being with the owner who registered the animal as an emotional support, these rules require constant and continued confrontation from the building staff with the animal owners. Most commonly, when an emotional support animal owner is inquired by building staff they provide excuses such as “the vest is in my unit being washed”, “it broke off the collar”, and “I left the animal in my unit and am going out alone”. These continued confrontations are costly and frustrating to the staff who are made to feel foolish. Further, continued complaints from “non-support animal unit owners” increase the frustration of Board members and staff.

State officials and legislators need to provide criteria for obtaining a license for an “emotional support animal” and provide an outline for implementing fines for each act of non-compliance.

Photo by Lorianne DiSabato on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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