New Neighborhoods–Workshop Meetings and Emotional Support Animal Guidelines

New Neighborhoods

By Gary A. Poliakoff and Ryan Poliakoff

Workshop Meetings and Emotional Support Animal Guidelines

Dear Poliakoffs,

I recently read a newspaper column responding to a question of whether the board of an HOA can meet in a closed workshop meeting, before it convenes its open board meeting.  The columnist responded that both the HOA and Condominium Acts prohibit closed workshop meetings.  Is that the case?  Signed, C.D.A.

Dear C.D.A.,

The answer differs slightly depending on whether the property is a condominium or an HOA.  In a condominium, meetings of the board, as well as committee meetings, must be noticed and open to unit owners, with an agenda posted at least 48 hours in advance.  However, there are exceptions to this rule.  Meetings of a committee that does not take final action on behalf of the board can be closed if the committee does not consist of a majority of the directors, and if the bylaws have been amended to allow such closed committee meetings.  However, if the committee is granted the authority to take final action on behalf of the board, or make recommendations to the board regarding the association’s budget, then the committee meeting must be open to the unit owners.  Also, the board can meet in a closed session for two specific purposes:

a.         Meetings between the board or a committee and the association’s attorney, with respect to proposed or pending litigation, if the meeting is held for the purpose of seeking or rendering legal advice, and

b.         Board meetings held for the purpose of discussing personnel matters.

While the HOA laws are basically the same as the Condominium Act, there are some small differences.  Meetings of the board at which a quorum is present must be open to the members, except that, as in condos, meetings with the association’s attorney and meetings to discuss personnel matters can be closed.  In the case of committees of a homeowner’s association, the HOA Act only mandates that committee meetings where a final decision will be made regarding the expenditure of association funds and architectural review committees be open.  Thus, if an HOA committee does not contain a quorum of the board, and if it is not making a decision regarding the expenditure of association funds or architectural contacts, it appears the committee can meet in closed session.

Dear Poliakoffs,

I am trying to buy a Villa at a community in Boca Raton, Florida.  I have an emotional support dog, which they are giving me a hard time about.  I have forwarded to them everything that they have asked for.  I had my doctor write them a letter as to why he has recommended that I get an emotional support animal, and why I need one. I also am on Social Security Disability.

They are telling me that I need a letter from a psychiatrist stating what my disabilities are.  Under the HIPPA Compliant Laws, I do not have to reveal my medical status.  Also, I do not go to a psychiatrist, and I do not take mind-enhancing drugs.

My dog has literally saved my life, and without him, my life is worthless.  He has gotten me through very hard times in my life, he has given me emotional support, amongst other things.

Because of their lack of cooperation, my contract has expired, and the seller (which is an investment company) does not want to renew my contract.  They have been asked to send to my realtor the condo documents, and as of yet, this has not been done.  (I signed this contract on March 13, 2012).  They have been delaying this process on purpose because of my dog, and also from what I understand, they have other people interested in this property for more than what I was going to pay.

This was going to be a cash sale.  I am literally getting sick over this, suffering from anxiety, stress, and my blood pressure has been escalating.  I need your help.  Please let me know what I can do.  This is the only Villa that I can afford, and I have friends that live there, which would make me feel more comfortable.  I also know that there are dogs already living in the community.  Signed, W.M.

Dear W.M.,

A Federal Court dealing with the very issues you raise provided specific guidelines of what information a no-pet property is allowed to request from a prospective owner to establish the need for an accommodation to keep a service or emotional support animal.  If requested by the association, the owner must share the nature of his or her infirmity (unless it is visibly obvious), and how an emotional support animal would ameliorate the cause of his or her handicap. In addition, the Court ruled that the association is entitled to inquire about the treating physician’s background and experience in treating the type of disability that necessitates keeping an emotional support animal. That doctor must send a letter advising the association the extent to which you have been in treatment and why the emotional support animal is necessary. So, in this case, you do have an obligation to reveal certain medical information if you want the requested accommodation.

The attending physician does not have to be a psychiatrist. However, he or she does have to demonstrate knowledge and experience in treating the type of problems that will be ameliorated by your emotional support animal.

Gary A. Poliakoff and Ryan Poliakoff are co-authors of New Neighborhoods—The Consumer’s Guide to Condominium, Co-Op and HOA Living.  Gary Poliakoff is a founding principal of Becker & Poliakoff, P.A., and Ryan Poliakoff is the Vice President of Management at AKAM On-Site.  Email questions to condocolumn@becker-poliakoff.com.  Please be sure to include your hometown.

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