Condo Owner in Dog Fight to Keep 'Prescription Pet'

Condo owners are legally entitled to the same pet allowances as other residents in need: There are guide dogs for the blind and alert dogs for the hard-of-hearing. Their owners are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act when it comes to keeping the animals at home in a building that might otherwise have a no pets allowed policy. However, prescription pets that fall under the "emotional service animal" category are, well, a different breed, as the owner isn't protected under the ADA, but maybe they could be under the Fair Housing Act, as one Florida condo owner is learning the hard way.

Phyllis Schleifer, 68, pictured left, was prescribed a dog by her doctors. The three-pound chihuahua, named Sweetie, is not there to be her eyes or ears, but is to help keep the "fragile and lonely" woman company, as she suffers from "severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder" after a car accident and the death of her husband of 42 years.

However, her Deerfield Beach, Fla., condo association said, it doesn't care what the reason is, the rules are the rules and the dog isn't allowed under its "no walking pets" rule. Especially since it hasn't received proof that Sweetie is really a service dog.

Now civil rights commissioners for the Broward County government decided Tuesday it will sue Schleifer's Ventnor "H" Condo Association on her behalf to help her keep her emotional support dog, her attorney told AOL Real Estate.

"The Fair Housing Act says you can't discriminate against someone for disabilities," said attorney Peter Wallis of Wallis & Wallis, P.A. "So we filed a case with the county and they came to the conclusion that there was reasonable cause that her rights were violated under the Fair Housing Act."

Schleifer told the Sun-Sentinel that her neighbors have treated her horribly because of her request for a pet waiver. She alleges that someone pushed her and another in an elevator used the "F-word."

The association even posted a notice alerting residents that Schleifer had a dog, and said her dog barked and disturbed neighbors. It reminded residents that dogs were not allowed and that the condo "sought legal representation'' to fight her and that if a lawsuit were necessary, "we will spend our association's money (all owners money)'' on the suit, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

"Broward County found there was a humiliating aspect to the notice," Wallis said during our phone interview. "You have to limit how you pick someone out of a crowd. You can't just pick someone out for humiliation, and that's how she felt. 'Lets make her feel terrible about herself.'"

Wallis, who specializes as a condominium and homeowner association attorney, says that for the county to take this case on, it could help other homeowners under association rules as well. He says the lawsuit is expected to be filed in Federal court by or before June.

He adds that conciliation efforts were offered to the association, but that it did not respond. Wallis still hopes that the case may settle without a court hearing. Either way, Schleifer will be seeking damages in addition to being allowed to stay with her pooch.

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Sheree R. Curry
, who has owned three homes and once had a pet bird keep her company, is a three-time award-winning journalist who has covered real estate for six years. During her 20-year career, her articles have appeared regularly in the
Wall Street Journal, TV Week, and Fortune. She's been writing for AOL Real Estate since 2009 from a Minneapolis-area rental. She seeks a book publisher -- or at least a lender who'll give a reasonable mortgage rate to a self-employed mom.