Last month, the CAI Board of Trustees adopted a new public policy, Assistance Animals and Pets in Community Associations, that recognizes and supports the rights of residential community associations to regulate and adopt rules pertaining to pets and assistance animals. These rules must guarantee the rights of individuals with disabilities to receive the assistance they need as mandated by state and federal laws.

The policy serves as a guide for CAI and its legislative action committees to support legislation allowing community associations to request documentation that verifies the need to accommodate for an assistance animal, and which imposes penalties for fraudulent requests for service or emotional support animals. CAI does not support legislation that contains provisions prohibiting community associations from fairly adopting rules governing animals.

An emotional support animal is recognized as a “reasonable accommodation” for a person with a disability under the federal Fair Housing Act. The assistance animal is not a pet, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the Fair Housing Act and investigates claims of housing discrimination.

Community associations are considered housing providers under the Fair Housing Act, and therefore are obligated to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. Responding to a resident’s request for emotional support animals can be tricky for community association board members.

Unfortunately, some individuals take advantage of the system. There are frequent reports of people fraudulently claiming to require “emotional support” dogs, cats, or birds in planes, restaurants, apartments, or hotels. At the same time, qualitative research studies affirm the connection people have with emotional support animals (also known as care companions or therapy animals) and the many ways they contribute to managing mental health conditions.

Complicating the problem is that, according to Michigan State University’s Animal Legal and Historical Center, there are only two questions that HUD says a housing provider should ask when considering a request for an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation:

  • Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability—i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
  • Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal?

In other words, does the animal work, help perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?

CAI’s new public policy is one of dozens of policies on important issues impacting the community association housing model. For additional information, read CAI’s Guide to Assistance Animals and HUD’s 2013 guidance on reasonable accommodation for assistance animals. CAI also urges HUD to provide additional guidance for community association boards handling requests for emotional support animals.

Click here to view current state laws regarding the misrepresentation of service animals.

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