$132,000 Pet Discrimination Judgement

The newest judgement in a string of condo associations to be sued over pet policies comes in Florida where the lawsuit Ajit Bhogaita v Appellant Altamonte Heights
Condominium Association, Inc. resulted in a verdict of $132,000. $5,000 was for direct damages and $127,000 was reimbursement of attorney fees, the ruling can be viewed here.

The unit owner was an Air Force veteran with PTSD who had been living in the condo complex since 2001, in 2008 he purchased his dog who was over the association’s 25 pound weight limit rule. No physician prescribed the dog as treatment but the PTSD improved with the dog’s presence.

When Bhogaita was asked to remove the dog in 2010 he produced two letters from his physician prescribing the dog, the association then came back with a series of invasive questions over the treatment he was receiving and the specifics of his need for a dog. A third letter from his physician was provided at this point with more specific justification of the therapeutic need for the pet.

At this point the association sent an even more invasive questionnaire asking questioning the PTSD diagnosis and requesting additional information on the residents disability, when a response was not received the association sent a third letter requesting the physician provide a sworn statement with the same details of Bhogaita’s disability.

Rather than continue to respond a complaint was filed with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUB) and the Florida Commission on Human Relations for violations of the Federal and Florida Fair Housing Acts. Both departments ruled for the condo owner and he was allowed to keep his large dog. In the following civil suit the jury decided not to award punitive damages, instead only award $5,000 plus attorneys fees.

The case highlights that lawyers should be engaged early during any of allegations of discrimination or an assertion that a person requires a special accommodation for a disability. My Condo Association Directors & Officers insurers offer pre-claim assistance to help the board manage costs. Once a claim is filed it quickly becomes very expensive and time consuming to defend. In the case cited the legal costs from defending two regulatory investigations and a civil suit would be catastrophic and likely exceeded the $132,000 judgement. Schedule a time to discuss insurance for condo board members to learn about cost effective ways to reduce your association’s cost and risk.