Association Myths Debunked: Emotional Support and Service Animals

emotional support and service animals myths

Property Managers and Board Members oftentimes ask how to adequately handle matters involving Emotional Support Animals (“ESA”) and Service Animals. This issue typically arises within Associations with a “no dog” or “no pet” policy when an individual requests an accommodation to these policies for an ESA or Service Animal. Given the heightened sensitivity needed for these issues, it is important to have the facts straight.

Myth #1: ESA and Service Animals in Associations are governed by the American Disability Act.

Explanation: This may be true for airline carriers, but when dealing with a condominium association or community association (or similar entity), the Federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) is the governing authority for ESA and Service Animals. Specifically, the FHA states that it is unlawful for any person to refuse “to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, procedures, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford…person(s) [with disability(s)] an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” This includes a request for an ESA and Service Animal for an Association with a “no animal” or “no dog” policy.

Myth #2: A request for an ESA or Service Animal must be in writing.

Explanation: A request for accommodation for an ESA or Service Animal may be made either in writing or orally to the Association. If made orally, the individual must make it clear to the Association that a request is being made and why (if not readily apparent). Since an Association has an obligation to respond promptly to any accommodation request received, it is important to note that a request may be made simply during a conversation in the lobby of your building.

Myth #3: The Association has to accept a request for ESA or Service Animal no matter what.

Explanation: In the event an Association receives a request for accommodation and the disability is not readily apparent, the Association may request reliable documentation from a medical provider evidencing an individual is 1) seeking to use and live with the animal has a disability (i.e. a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities) and that 2)the individual has a disability-related need for that particular animal (the animal either works, provides assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of the individual or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of the Resident’s disability). The information provided can then be reviewed (we recommend by counsel) and a decision can be made whether or not the request meets the necessary criteria.

Myth #4: Only dogs can be ESA or Service Animals.

Explanation: Although service dogs and emotional support dogs are very common, other animals may be ESA or service animals as well. It is important to determine whether there are any statutes or ordinances prohibiting ownership of a particular animal within the city or state. This issue may arise in dealing with exotic animals where licenses may be required for ownership of the animal (or an individual is prohibited from ownership of the animal entirely). There may be ordinances restricting other animals (i.e. farm animals) from being kept within city limits as well.

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