February 26, 2018 | | Kim Sutter
At the Community Associations Institute’s Annual Law Seminar this year, there were several hot topics that community associations are dealing with nationwide that we, here in Indiana, need to keep watch for and deal with so that they don’t become issues in our communities.
Marijuana Smoke Infiltration: States have seen a rise in the legalization of marijuana, some for medicinal purposes only and others for recreational use. This increased legalization has led to problems in townhome, cluster and condominium communities with shared walls. The smoke can seep through ventilation systems causing neighbors to be exposed to marijuana smoke. This can cause issues where the person uses the marijuana for medicinal purposes. If an owner has a prescription, the Association must weigh the necessity of the owner to treat his or her condition with the negative impact of exposure to the other residents. Even more problematic is where the neighbor who is exposed to the smoke infiltration has a competing medical condition, such as asthma. Even though Indiana has not enacted laws legalizing marijuana, it is important to be aware of the issues. Indiana may not have laws currently, but if this follows most legal trends with community associations, these types of regulations may work their way into the Midwest.
Service Animals and Comfort Animals: Fair housing was a major topic this year and was covered in some way in 8 of the sessions over the three-day seminar. The emerging trend is the increase in “fake” service animals, where owners try to circumvent a community’s restrictions by attempting to pass off their family pet as a true service animal. Many states are making attempts to criminalize such behavior to try and curb this trend. The other concern to community associations is the increase in emotional support animals or comfort animals within communities. The concern is not for the owner with PTSD that needs the emotional support animal to help calm them and treat their condition. The concern is that there are owners who may not have a legitimate condition requiring a comfort animal, but the owner manages to convince a doctor or other qualified individual to issue them a letter stating they require the animal to treat their condition. Some even find a service to issue a letter for a fee, stating that the animal is required for their “condition” just so they can have a pet in an otherwise pet restricted community. In Indiana, it is common for the governing documents of a condominium or townhome community to restrict or prohibit pets, so these issues are not confined to other states.
Harassment: The days of the community association staying out of all neighbor-to-neighbor disputes may be coming to an end. Now, with HUD’s guidelines regarding application of Fair Housing laws, the community associations have responsibilities to investigate, mitigate and act in instances where there is severe or pervasive harassment of an owner based upon their status as part of a protected class.
If your community is dealing with any of these issues, contact your association’s attorney for assistance in navigating these complex issues.