We’ve all heard the stories of emotional support dogs, peacocks and even mini horses on planes, baffled on how the owners got away with it. How do you, as a community association, assess whether to allow support animals in your community if animal restrictions are established?
The Fair Housing Act
It is important to distinguish between the two types of assistance animals: (1) service animals, and (2) other animals that do work, perform tasks, provide assistance, and/or provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities (“support animals”). We will focus our discussion on requests for accommodations based on support animals.
Unlike airlines, community associations, are governed by the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). The FHA makes it unlawful for associations to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation that a person with a disability may need in order to have equal opportunity to enjoy and use a dwelling.
A “reasonable accommodation” is a change, exception, or adjudgment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces.
Analyzing Accommodation Requests under the FHA
Associations are not required to automatically approve each request for accommodation of support animals but may request reliable documentation prior to issuing approval or denial. Associations may use the following questions to help decide whether to grant the request for accommodation.
The FHA allows associations to request “reliable documentation” from persons requesting accommodations for support animals. Some websites sell certificates or licensing documents for assistance animals to anyone who answers certain questions and pays a fee. However, such documentation from the internet is not, by itself, sufficient to reliably establish that an individual has a non-observable disability or disability-related need for a support animal.
Many legitimate licensed health care professionals deliver services remotely, including over the internet. A reliable form of documentation is a note from that person’s health care professional that confirms his/her disability and/or need for an animal when the provider has personal knowledge of the individual.
In addition to the above set of questions, which are approved by the FHA, an Association should consider the following relating to all accommodation requests for support animals.
You should always consult with legal counsel and review the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act prior to making any decisions as each case provides a unique set of facts and circumstances.