Q: I live in a +55 co-op apartment complex owned by a corporation. Management recently permitted shareholders (apartment owners) to have comfort pets, including dogs and cats, despite the rules banning pet ownership. Recently, stores, offices, and public buildings have severely restricted the presence of animals, except for legal service dogs. Can my building enforce the same rule? What is my recourse in removing the pets from the building? ֱKay

A: The comfort pets you refer to are likely emotional support animals, or ESAs. Associations, including co-ops, must make reasonable accommodations for people who need the assistance of an ESA.

ESAs are not pets ֱ they are companion animals that provide therapeutic benefits to people with verifiable mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Community homeownership can take various forms, including condominiums, homeowners' associations, and cooperatives. Despite these different forms of common ownership, fair housing rules apply to all of them. The person requiring the ESA must apply to their association, which should make reasonable accommodations necessary to the resident's well-being.

Because ESAs are not pets, restrictions regarding pets do not apply. Also, the rules for stores and offices differ from those for housing, and the rules for ESAs differ from those for service animals.

However, this does not mean that no rules apply. Your association can require ESAs to behave appropriately, both inside the resident's unit and on common property.

While it is not a perfect analogy, I find it helpful to think of ESAs like other therapeutics, such as a walker or cane. While your community cannot stop a resident from having a walker, it can require them to use it appropriately, not bang it on the floor at all hours, or hit other residents with it in the elevator.

Similarly, your community can require residents to maintain proper control over their ESA, making sure they do not make too much noise or become aggressive to other residents.

Your association leadership has the difficult task of balancing its members' needs. It must balance some residents who want a pet-free building, without barks and dander, with the needs of other residents who require the emotional support of these animals. This is no easy task and requires a fair hand by leadership and patience from the residents.

Of course, if someone abuses the ESA rules to get a pet into the pet-free building, your association can and should take appropriate action with the help of the community's legal counsel.

Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. 

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