AGGRESSIVE ASSISTANCE ANIMALS
Allowing homeowners to have an emotional support animal is not only compassionate but often necessary for the well-being of some residents.
Abused. It is also one of the most abused exceptions to pet restrictions in practice today. All anyone needs is a letter from a medical professional to overcome restrictions. It doesn’t matter the “medical professional” is an internet psychic who passes out form letters like candy (for a modest fee).
Weird. The abuse is not limited to the size and number of dogs, it extends to the weird. Some are claiming squirrels, bearded dragons, miniature horses, turkeys, goats, and pigs as necessary to their emotional well-being. The proliferation of animals has created problems for condominium associations, apartment complexes, restaurants, and airlines. Commercial carriers have already put the brakes on what they will allow on their planes. The courts are now injecting some common sense into the issue as well.
Aggressive Animals. Gill Terrace is a no-pet apartment complex in Vermont. Despite their “no-pets” policy, the landlord grants reasonable accommodation to residents with disabilities. However, he drew the line when a resident (Ms. Johnson) asked for reasonable accommodation for aggressive guard dog named Dutchess.
Dog’s Behavior. Dutchess is a large mixed breed pit bull that reared up on her back legs, lunged at people and other dogs, and bared her teeth at them. She has a distinct angry bark and growl. Even indoors, Dutchess goes crazy when other dogs walk by the window. Ms. Johnson was not able to control Dutchess and some residents were fearful and stayed indoors whenever the dog was outside.
Lower Court Ruling. The landlord told Ms. Johnson she could have an emotional support animal–just not Dutchess. When Ms. Johnson failed to get rid of Dutchess, the landlord began eviction proceedings. (Gill Terrace Retirement Apts v. Marie Johnson). Even though the dog had not yet bitten anyone, the lower court found sufficient evidence the dog was a threat that it ruled for the landlord. The court concluded that reasonable accommodation does not extend to aggressive assistance animals.
Supreme Court Ruling. Ms. Johnson appealed. Fortunately, the Vermont Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling. It concluded the landlord was justified in denying a reasonable accommodation request for a specific dog on the grounds it posed a threat to others.
RECOMMENDATION: While the ruling in Vermont is not binding in California, it seems likely our courts would render a similar verdict. That means boards of directors can (and should) investigate complaints about aggressive animals and take action when the behavior of a specific animal adversely affects the safety and well-being of residents. If a board knows a specific animal is a threat, failing to take action could have unpleasant consequences if the animal were to attack residents or their pets.
Hope this information is helpful to your HOA community.