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Florida Condo Association Must Allow Therapy Dog to Stay

August 8, 2013
Source: WSVN News

Some people with a disability [need] medication or constant doctors visits and some people find relief with a therapy dog. That's what was helping one South Florida woman till her condo association said the dog had to go. And that's when Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser stepped in.

To many people, their dog is a life changer. To some people, their dog is a life saver.

Claribel Ruiz: "I need that companionship of my dog."

Claribel's dog is named Sky.

Claribel Ruiz: "Because she is like the sky. She means everything to me."

Claribel [has] anxiety and depression. Sky is a registered therapy dog, helping Claribel like medication or a psychiatrist might help another person.

Claribel Ruiz: "The dog helps me when anxiety kicks in. When I want to run out of the house, when I feel like I can't stay in one place, she calms me down. She stays by my side."

But Sky's presence has left the Chancellor Hall Condominium Association yapping.

Claribel Ruiz: "The man, when he saw the small dog, he wanted us to take the little dog out."

The association doesn't allow dogs. So Claribel sent the condo president this prescription that says she requires the companionship of the dog, a letter from her doctor explaining that it's needed for her medical condition, and they sent the registration papers for Sky.

The condo president's response:

Claribel Ruiz: "He says 'He doesn't want dogs here. That the law does not allow to have a dog.'"

The association then hired an attorney who sent this list of medical questions about Claribel for her doctor to answer. And the lawyer then asked Claribel to release all her medical records to the association.

Claribel Ruiz: "And if he knows and he likes to gossip the entire building will know about all the problems I have."

Claribel and her doctor would not fill out the paperwork. So she gave up and told the condo president she would get rid of Sky. That wasn't enough.

Claribel Ruiz: "His response was 'That will work, but you have to be willing to pay our legal fees.'"

Claribel was stunned. Being asked to get rid of Sky and pay the association's attorney for trying to force her to get rid of Sky. That's when she decided to fight to keep Sky and called Help Me Howard.

Claribel Ruiz: "I appreciate anything Channel 7 can do for me."

Well, Howard, this is Claribel, this is Sky. Does the dog have to leave the condo?

Howard Finkelstein: "No, they do not. Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, a therapy dog cannot be barred from someone's home, even if animals are not allowed. The problem is that associations have the funds to hire an attorney to frighten the [dog] owner into giving up their animal."

I spoke to the attorney for the association. Michael Bass told me we do not want to deny Ms. Ruiz the right to her dog but we need to see proof that she has a disability.

Howard Finkelstein: "And they don't have a right to get medical records for a person that has disability."

To fight the condo association, Claribel needed an expert, and Matthew Dietz volunteered his time to help her.

Dietz specializes in helping people with disabilities. He says that the Fair Housing Act regulations were supposed to make it easy for someone like Claribel to have her dog. As to why associations ignore the regulations, he says they just don't know any better.

Matthew Dietz: "They don't get training. They don't get training as to what the Fair Housing Act is and they don't get training as to disabilities. They believe that their rules in some way come from a higher source than our federal laws.

Claribel now has some peace of mind because with Matthew Dietz's help, Sky wont be going away.

Claribel Ruiz: "I feel better. Thank you for helping me. The lawyer and Channel 7."

If [the] Condo Association doesn't back down and Matthew has to take them to court and wins, they will have to pay his legal fees. And that can be expensive for an association.

More information:
HUD Bulletin on Service Animals and Assistance Animals

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