MIAMI -- A dogfight is developing in some pet-free condominium complexes across South Florida.
The reason? A loop-hole that allows pets if residents can get them classified as "emotional support animals." It's apparently as easy as getting a physician, psychiatrist, social worker or mental health professional to sign a letter saying the resident gets emotional support from the pet.
"It's almost an epidemic here at the beach," George Zamora, a property manager for Regatta Real Estate Management, told The Miami Herald.
"It's highly suspect when people start asking whether or not they can have a pet, and all of a sudden, they show up and say they need emotional support," said Zamora, whose company manages 93 condominium associations in Miami-Dade County. "If you legitimately have an issue, you don't ask."
Marcela Alvarez lived at Bay Garden Manor Condominium on Miami Beach with her husband for 14 years. When they got divorced, her chiropractor suggested she get a pet. Alvarez talked to an endocrinologist, who agreed to sign the letter.
"I thought, `Oh why not? If you think that's important to you, then that's fine with me,'" said Dr. Marco Fiore, who signed the paper for Alvarez.
Alvarez got a Jack Russell named Pelusa, who now lives in the pet-free building.
It's a different story for Steve Vincent, who lives in the building and recently had a kidney transplant. Doctors told him avoiding fur is a medical imperative and he's tired of having dogs "sniff" him in the elevator.
"I'm all for everybody being happy and living a healthy life," said Vincent. "But you can't do that at other people's expense.
Attorney Paul J. Milberg recently held a seminar to teach property managers to deal with requests for emotional support animals. He explained what kinds of questions they can ask, the documentation needed to verify legitimacy and the methods they can take to protect themselves in granting an accommodation.
Dog trainer Rose Lesniak says she's received calls from people seeing letters for their condo associations. She says she can tell right away whether someone has an emotional need.
"All they want is a letter from me saying their dog is certified and I tell them that's not the way it works."