A condominium association has been fighting it out in court for nearly one year with a homeowner who sued when the association moved to ban his dog.
The dog’s breed and function are at the center of a lawsuit that pits countywide breed restrictions against Fair Housing Act protections for disabled residents with service animals.
The plaintiff, Alexander Warren, asked Miami’s Del Vista Towers Condominium Association to overlook its “no-pet” policy to accommodate his dog, Amir—a service animal, according to Warren.
When the association refused, Warren filed suit in Southern District court, claiming failure to reasonably accommodate.
But the condo association asked Judge Jose Martinez for a summary judgment and hinged its argument on the dog’s breed. It argued that Warren’s case was baseless, because his dog is a pit bull—a restricted breed under Miami-Dade regulations. Del Vista Towers figured Warren did not have a case because of Miami-Dade’s countywide ban on pit bulls.
But Martinez didn’t think the case was so clear-cut. On Tuesday, he denied the condo association’s motion for summary judgment.
Warren suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and severe recurrent major depression. In June 2013, his psychiatrist noted the dog’s therapeutic function and sent a letter to Del Vista that “strongly recommended” the condo association make a “reasonable accommodation” for Warren’s dog, despite a pet policy that allows only birds and fish.
In response, Del Vista’s attorneys requested more information “to properly evaluate” the claim. They also threatened a lawsuit if Warren and his psychiatrist did not provide the information within 10 days.
That’s when the homeowner hired lawyers, and kept his dog, despite the condo association’s refusal to bend, according to court documents. He filed suit in August claiming violations of the Fair Housing Act and discrimination against a disabled resident. He said the building’s manager, Hyman Zelcher, intimidated him and threatened to call the police when Warren wouldn’t give up Amir. The suit, Paul Alexander Warren v. Del Vista Towers Condominium Association, names Zelcher as co-defendant.
“ln failing to grant the accommodation, Del Vista argues that the accommodation is per se unreasonable because Amir is allegedly a pit bull, and pit bull dogs are banned by ordinance in Miami-Dade County,” Martinez wrote in a decision dated July 29.
But Warren, who argued that the dog was not a pit bull, countered that rulings and notices from HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, allow “reasonable accommodation” of service animals, regardless of breed.
The judge agreed.
“The HUD rulings and notices make clear that an emotional support animal need not be specifically trained, because the symptoms the animal ameliorates are mental and emotional, rather than physical,” Martinez wrote. “In the present case, if the county ordinance were enforced, it would violate the FHA by permitting a discriminatory housing practice. In failing to grant plaintiff’s request to live with his assistance animal because of the dog’s alleged breed, plaintiff is not afforded an equal opportunity to use and enjoy his dwelling.”
The case is set to continue before Martinez, with Warren represented by Marcy LaHart of the law firm of Marcy I. LaHart in Gainesville, and Sarah Morgan Hayter and Robert Hartsell, of the Pompano Beach-based law firm of Robert N. Hartsell.
Defense attorneys are Barry Adam Postman and Anika Campbell of Cole Scott & Kissane in West Palm Beach, and Roberto Carlos Blanch of Siegfried Rivera Hyman Lerner in Coral Gables.