If it looks like a dog and acts like a dog, then community association restrictions regarding dogs must apply, right? Not if the dog is an assistance animal.

Assistance animals play an important role in the lives of people with disabilities. The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as state and local laws govern assistance animals in community associations. Assistance animals are categorized into three groups:

  • Service animals. Specifically trained to work or perform tasks for individuals with physical disabilities.
  • Therapy animals. Provide psychological or physiological benefits to individuals or groups in a clinical environment.
  • Emotional support animals. Provide comfort for people with mental health issues.

Assistance animals are not considered pets subject to restrictions from community association governing documents. Most pet-related policies do not apply to them.

Community associations must recognize the rights of individuals with disabilities to receive the assistance they need within their home and must comply with federal, state, and local laws guaranteeing such rights.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) governs the assistance animal regulations for housing providers and residents. For years, CAI urged HUD to help community association residents, boards, and managers navigate the process of approving assistance animals.

In January 2020, HUD released clarification with several key and helpful points, including clarification related to documentation of the need for an assistance animal from the internet, observable versus nonobservable disabilities, and types of animals that may qualify as assistance animals.

CAI summarized this very useful clarification into two guides:

Download these guides and post them in your office and community or have them available for residents asking for information.

Requests regarding emotional support animals are particularly tricky, often because the need isn’t observable and because fraud in this area had skyrocketed. You can read more about cases in the U.S. regarding emotional support animals from Michigan State University’s Animal Legal and Historical Center. Topics in these cases include: whether an association may restrict an accommodation requested based on the breed of the dog; whether pet policies such as common area access and deposits apply to assistance animals; delay in granting accommodations; proof of disability; species of animal other than cat or dog for emotional support animals. These cases and their court rulings may be found at www.animallaw.info.

>>Download CAI’s assistance animal guides at www.caionline.org/assistanceanimals.

Dawn Bauman, CAE

Dawn Bauman, CAE

Senior Vice President, Government & Public Affairs

Executive Director, Foundation for Community Association Research

Full Bio

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