Condo association says ex-Marine's emotional support dog is too big

Group would not make exception because dog is not service animal

By Layron Livingston - Reporter

SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. - Cross-Bones is his name, and he never met a human he didn't like.

"He was quiet, but firm," said Jean Salas.  He adopted his 70-pound dog last year, naming him after one of his former commanding officers.  Salas spent four years overseas, serving in the Marine Corps. 

"Throughout the time that I've had him, he has benefited me for my mental health," said Salas.

He said Bones is his emotional support dog. 

"Whenever I'm anxious, or just feel overwhelmed, he'll just come up to me, sit with me, cuddle up to me, comfort me."

The Leave it to Layron team was contacted by Salas and his landlord after Salas' application to rent his condo was denied.  The Sabal Chase Condo Association" sent Salas' landlord a "certificate of denial" citing the association's bylaws: "...a permitted pet may not be more than 29 pounds in weight."

Salas' landlord exchanged emails with the association's managers, asking an exception be made to that weight limit.  Salas and his landlord submitted their Bones's emotional support animal "registration" certificate.

At one point, the association manager responded, writing, "being an emotional support dog, is not the same thing as a service animal."

We tried speaking with the managers of the association and were eventually referred to the association's lawyer, whose comment was, “no comment.”

We talked to another lawyer:  Matthew Dietz, with the Disability Independence Group.

"There's no difference between [the weight rule] and saying I have a mobility impairment and I need an assigned parking space."

Dietz said the association is violating Salas' federal fair housing rights.

"Without a doubt," said Dietz.  "If it's housing, you have to allow both service animals and emotional support animals."

Dietz tried a similar case in federal court and won.  He represented an Air Force veteran whose Florida condo board ordered him to get rid of his emotional support dog because the dog was too big.

Dietz said the Salas' association could have asked for a verification from a treating professional, to say that the person has a disability and the dog is necessary.

"In this case it was, you have an emotional support animal, you're not allowed to live here."

For now, Salas doesn't have access to any of the community's common spaces.  But Salas said his landlord is letting him and Bones stay.   

“He's my dog," Salas said.  “He's family."

Dietz said anyone who feels their housing rights are being violated should start with filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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