Yesterday’s "Sarasota Herald Tribune" featured a column by Tom Lyons about a dispute between the board of a condominium association and one of its residents. As I read the article (which was headlined "Condo flag fight needs a little common sense") I wondered whether this association’s directors had considered the negative publicity resulting from their decision to require the resident to remove five or six small flags that she had arranged in a circle around a tree located on the common area outside of her unit on the Sunday before Veterans Day. The question as to whether the association was correctly interpreting Florida Statute Section 718.113 and its own governing documents seemed rather unimportant when compared with the desire of this resident to demonstrate her patriotism during the week of Veterans’ Day–especially since, according to Mr. Lyons’ column, the resident was the mother to two sons and daughters-in-law who were currently serving in the Navy and had lost two friends who died while serving in Vietnam.
Later that morning I spoke with a board member from one of the ROCs we represent. She had just received a rather unique request from a couple that wanted to spend a month in the recreational vehicle park operated by the association. The rules governing the RV park and the rest of the community prohibited pets and the couple was aware of this because they had friends that lived in the park. This couple trained guide dogs and they wanted to know whether the Board of Directors would make an exception to the "no pet" rules and allow them to bring the dog they were currently training with them during their stay. While there were certainly other nearby locations where the couple could stay with the dog, both they and their friends hoped that the Board could grant their request.
As we discussed this situation, it was clear that this board member had already read Florida Statute Section 413.08 which gives persons with disabilities rights to be accompanied by a "service animal" in "all areas of a pubic accommodation" that "the public" would normally be permitted to occupy. However, the board member advised that the couple was not claiming that either of them had a disability nor could the dog they were training fit into the definition of a "service animal" at the time that the dog would be brought into the park. How would I suggest that the board respond to the request?
I suggested that the board should weigh a number of factors, including the following::
- While it did not appear that the board was required to grant the couple’s request under either state or federal Fair Housing Laws or Disability Laws, the board did, as always, have the authority to grant exceptions to the community’s "no pet" rules.
- The couple would be staying in the park for a relatively short period of time (30 days).
- The fact situation presented to the Board was certainly uncommon–how often would someone request an exception to the pet restrictions on grounds that the pet was being trained to be a service animal or guide dog?
- The couple had presented the board member with documentation that sufficiently established that they were in fact qualified guide dog trainers and were training the dog for that purpose.
- The couple had friends in the community and those friends and the other residents in the park would have the opportunity to learn about the work involved in training guide dogs and how these dogs help persons deal with their disabilities.
In short, I suggested that while I didn’t believe that the Board was required to make an exception to the community’s "no pet" rules, the Board could certainly justify an exception under these circumstances if it chose to do so. I was most impressed by the efforts clearly being made by this community’s board of directors to weigh all sides of the issue before making a hasty decision. I sensed that the members of this community’s board would apply common sense and compassion in its decision-making process and hope that all ROC boards follow this board’s example.