X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Visit James and Joy Lockwood at their Regal Palms Condominium home in Palm Springs and you’ll likely find their 13-pound white pooch, Hannah, propped on Jim’s lap, licking his face. “She’s extremely quiet, never barks and is completely house trained, very affectionate, always licking me,” Jim Lockwood said about his 2-year-old Pekinese. Lockwood, a prostate cancer survivor plagued by depression since his retirement from the ministry in 1985, faces the legal fight of his life � preventing his condo association from evicting a dog he said is his best friend and his best therapy. “Hannah has done more for me than all the medicine and counseling I’ve had in the last 15 years,” said Lockwood. “She’s been a miracle.” Lockwood is among the growing ranks of South Floridians who have armed themselves with federal, state and local civil rights laws to keep landlords, condo and homeowner associations from evicting them or their pets. As more physicians prescribe service and companion animals to improve health and enhance quality of life, patients are fighting no-pet rules in court. It’s a national phenomenon that stems from recent studies that prove pets � dogs, cats, reptiles such as snakes and iguanas, birds, pigs, chickens and even lambs � help the handicapped cope with physical and mental maladies. Studies report pet owners have lower blood pressure, lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than non-owners do and generally live longer following coronary heart disease. Furthermore, medication costs drop. “People who stay by themselves come out of their shells and start talking,” said Mindy Cox of Harmony Animal Hospital in Jupiter, a “certified evaluator” for Pet Partners, a national program that helps identify animals that are suited to providing emotional support for people. “These animals are miracle workers, trust me,” said Ann Butrick. With her husband, Jack, who’s now deceased, Butrick founded Therapy Dogs Inc. in Wyoming in 1990. As a result of the recent studies, Butrick said, more senior housing complexes are allowing people to keep dogs. But not all landlords and neighbors welcome the change. At Regal Palms Lockwood, who was hospitalized for depression two weeks last year in Port St. Lucie, followed his doctors’ orders and acquired a small dog as a companion. He told his community’s board of directors in January that he is afflicted with a mental disability that demanded Hannah as part of a treatment plan. He presented three letters of support from treating physicians. The board adhered to Regal Palms’ no-pet policy and rejected his request, demanding that he find Hannah another home or move out. Condo board president Nicholas J. Marino did not return phone calls for comment. The association’s attorney, Rodney Tennyson of West Palm Beach, said associations with no-pet rules in their charters usually must fight such cases; otherwise the board violates its fiduciary duty to the members. Pet owners such as Lockwood have some law on their side. Animals such as Seeing Eye dogs may be considered service or companion animals under the Fair Housing Act of 1988 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. They cease to be pets in the eyes of the law. Lockwood, who sought sanctuary for Hannah under those laws, filed a complaint in March with the Palm Beach County Office of Economic Opportunity, alleging violation of the county’s fair housing ordinance, which mirrors federal and state civil rights laws. Harry L. Lamb Jr., director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, on April 21 found reasonable grounds that Regal Palms discriminated against Lockwood by refusing to allow him to keep Hannah. Although the office’s finding isn’t legally binding, it can be used as evidence in the event the case ends up in court. Lamb said the number of such complaints has doubled in the last year. His office investigates each complaint, and in 80 percent to 90 percent of cases finds a legitimate need for a companion or service animal. Lamb’s counterpart in Miami-Dade, Marcus Regalado, is also seeing more complaints. “I believe there are more of these situations happening every day,” he said. After the office notified Regal Palms of its decision, the association sued Lockwood on May 3 in Palm Beach Circuit Court, demanding Hannah’s removal plus legal fees. Although it’s legal to sue even after the economic opportunity office ruled in favor of Lockwood, it may make little sense. “We beat up our clients and told ‘em to settle,” said condo board attorney Tennyson, “but the [board] votes weren’t there.” Meanwhile, the question as to whether condo rights supersede fair housing laws is prompting the Palm Beach County attorney to look into the case. Assistant county attorney Tammy Fields said her office plans to recommend that the county intervene on Lockwood’s behalf. Condo boards apparently are willing to fight government agencies. Take the case of James D. Lemon, who lives at Lakeside Point Building No. 2 in Lake Worth with his 10-pound Chihuahua, Willie Lump Lump. Lemon suffers from anxiety and depression disorders, severe chronic asthma, emphysema and bronchitis. Although the Palm Beach economic opportunity office determined Lemon should keep Willie Lump Lump, the condo took him to court. For two years Lemon fought and lost. Then Genevieve Cousminer of the Coalition for Independent Living Options Inc., a nonprofit corporation in West Palm Beach, joined the fray and helped win a settlement with the condo board, permitting Lemon and Willie Lump Lump to live together. Cousminer said Palm Beach Circuit Judge Richard I. Wennet would not find Lemon disabled because he wasn’t in a wheel chair. The judge twice jailed Lemon in 1999 for criminal contempt of court for refusing to give up Willie Lump Lump. Lemon finally prevailed. People facing forcible separation from their pets fight hard, said Tennyson. But when the rule is embedded in an association’s charter, Florida law requires a governing board to sue. Otherwise, the board violates its fiduciary duty to the members, Tennyson said. Legal fees ring up fast, about $10,000 in each case, he adds. Despite the cost and likelihood of losing, association lawyers remain skeptical about easing pet restrictions. Many owners will claim medical necessity for a pet to justify keeping it, said Daniel Rosenbaum, a shareholder at Becker & Poliakoff in West Palm Beach, a pet lover who has chalked up his share of animal evictions: at least 20 dogs and cats over 20 years. Like Tennyson, he said he feels no remorse. Rosenbaum said residents may abuse civil rights laws, using the animal-therapy claim as a pretext. He also questions the therapeutic value of animals, even though he confesses he’s still grieving over Kiwi, his family’s six-foot iguana that died last year of old age. Conceding that the companion animal defense is growing in popularity, association lawyer Louis Caplan of Sachs Sax & Klein in West Palm Beach, said if the economic opportunity office finds for the pet owner, he will always urge his client to let the animal stay. Caplan said he has never evicted an animal, though he was called once to look into a matter involving a wayward goose. But no one ever claimed the animal, he said, and at some point it just wandered out of the community. “It wasn’t,” he assures, “on my [dinner] table.”

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.