Newsletter-54(2017-10-11)-County Ban On Pit Bulls v FHA
Dated: November 8, 2017
Mr. Jose A. Torres, Esq., is a Shareholder/Attorney at Cuevas, Garcia & Torres, P.A., and Vice-President of Vantage Property Title Company, Inc. Cuevas, Garcia & Torres, P.A., provides legal services in the areas of Community Association Law, Corporate Law, Real Estate Law, and Business Immigration, including, without limitation, title insurance services through Vantage Property Title Company, Inc. If you have any questions regarding this article or any other questions, you may contact Mr. Torres at (305) 461-9500 or via e-mail at [email protected]. If you are interested in reading previous newsletters, please visit www.cuevaslaw.com, select the icon for Newsletters, and then choose the area of law you are interested in.
Miami-Dade County Ban On Pit Bulls Does Not Prevent Pit Bulls From Being Kept As Assistance Animals Under The Fair Housing Act
In what continues to be a divisive issue, two nonprofit organizations have recently filed suit in federal court against Miami-Dade County, seeking to overturn a county ordinance adopted in 1989 which bans Miami-Dade residents from keeping pit bulls as pets. These two nonprofits, Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation and Blues for Vets, argue that Miami-Dade’s ban on pit bulls violates pit bull owners’ constitutional protections because it infringes upon their right to due process, as well as their liberty and property interests, “where there is no evidence that the animals posed a threat to public safety.”
Notwithstanding the nearly three decade ban on pit bulls in Miami-Dade, however, condominium and homeowners associations situated in Miami-Dade should be aware that association residents who are disabled and require the use of an assistance animal to achieve equal use and enjoyment of the premises, may be permitted to keep a pit bull as an emotional support animal if the specific pit bull in question has not otherwise demonstrated that it would pose a safety risk to fellow residents or guests.
The Fair Housing Act and local fair housing laws require residential housing providers, such as condominiums and homeowners associations, to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or assistances, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a condo or HOA resident equal opportunity to use and enjoy their unit. Reasonable accommodations may include allowing a disabled resident to keep an assistance animal which assists the disabled resident in dealing with the effects of their disabilities.
Dogs are the most common assistance animals. More importantly, the Fair Housing Act prevents the application of any breed, height, or weight restrictions against assistance animals. This is because assistance animals are not considered pets. Rather, assistance animals are classified by the Fair Housing Act as auxiliary aids, similar to a cane, crutches or wheelchair. For this reason, even condominiums and homeowners associations with “no pet” rules or breed-specific pet restrictions must permit the use and keeping of an assistance animal that would otherwise not be allowed to be kept as a pet.
What’s more, condominiums and homeowners associations may not point to the Miami-Dade ban on pit bulls as sufficient authority to deny a disabled resident from keeping a pit bull as an assistance animal. On July 29, 2014, in a lawsuit filed against a condominium by a disabled resident who kept a pit bull as an assistance animal, United States District Judge Jose E. Martinez entered an Order Denying Defendant Delvista Condominium Association, Inc.’s Motion for Summary Judgment in which he ruled that the Fair Housing Act and its bar of breed, height, and weight restrictions against assistance animals preempted the Miami-Dade county ordinance banning pit bulls.
Therefore, it is possible for a disabled resident to keep a pit bull as an assistance animal under the Fair Housing Act in a condominium or homeowners association located in Miami-Dade despite the existence of the county ordinance banning residents from keeping pit bulls as pets.
This article is solely a partial explanation of all the issues related to the topic of this newsletter, and is not to be considered legal advice. Associations should seek legal advice for all issues related to their governing documents and enforceability. This Newsletter is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a legal opinion.