Emotional Support Animals In HOAs: Allowed Or Not?

Navigating the ins and outs of emotional support animals in HOAs can come as quite a challenge. More often than not, HOA boards don't know how to handle requests for reasonable accommodation, especially when the rules aren't clearly spelled out. This usually leads to some form of complaint, dispute, or even liability.

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Navigating the ins and outs of emotional support animals in HOAs can come as quite a challenge. More often than not, HOA boards don’t know how to handle requests for reasonable accommodation, especially when the rules aren’t clearly spelled out. This usually leads to some form of complaint, dispute, or even liability.

 

What Are Emotional Support Animals in HOAs?

As its name suggests, an emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that provides therapeutic support or relief to a person with a disability. Other terms people use include a comfort animal or an animal-assisted therapy animal.

While ESAs provide much-needed companionship to some people, there is a lot of debate surrounding them when it comes to HOAs and condominiums. Homeowners associations and condominiums are known for having strict rules, some of which can include pet-related ones. In many communities, residents aren’t even allowed to keep pets at all.

To know whether or not owners of ESAs can bypass association rules, it’s first important to understand how they differ from service animals.

 

Emotional Support Animal vs Service Animal

A service animal is any dog that has specific training to perform tasks for a person with a disability. The Americans With Disabilities Act only recognizes dogs as service animals. The work of a service animal should directly relate to the disability of its handler. For example, a service dog may have specific training to serve as a guide to a blind person.

Meanwhile, an emotional support animal is a type of assistance animal that provides emotional support to its handler. Typically, ESAs alleviate the effects of a mental disability. However, unlike service dogs, ESAs are not necessarily specially trained. Additionally, ESAs can take the form of any domesticated animal, not just dogs.

Due to this distinction, ESAs don’t automatically receive the same treatments, exceptions, and protections as service animals. This is particularly apparent among homeowners associations and condo communities.

 

Fair Housing Act on Emotional Support Animal

The Fair Housing Act offers protection to a number of protected classes, including people with disabilities. The federal law does not allow housing discrimination and extends this protection to service animals. It is worth noting that many states have their own fair housing laws, too. As such, there may be some additional protected classes beyond the ones under the federal FHA.

 

Are Emotional Support Animals Protected Under the FHA?

The federal FHA does not explicitly require housing providers to make exceptions for emotional support animals. However, some states may require housing providers to offer reasonable accommodations if an owner can supply documents that prove their need for an ESA. Typically, this comes in the form of a letter from a healthcare provider and other supporting documents.

 

What Is an ESA Letter?

An ESA letter is a written letter that indicates a person’s mental or emotional disability and their need for an emotional support animal. A licensed healthcare professional must write and sign this letter.

Most of the time, people will use their ESA letter to bring their pets to establishments that don’t allow animals. However, an ESA letter does not automatically guarantee the same exception when it comes to housing. An HOA or condo association, for instance, may still have the ability to deny a resident’s ESA even if they have an ESA letter.

 

Emotional Support Animals in HOAs: Allowed or Not?

Homeowners associations that allow pets usually accept emotional support animals. The decision is a no-brainer since the community already permits pets anyway. However, some HOAs have strict no-pets policies, which is where the problem lies.

While ESAs offer benefits, homeowners associations don’t always allow them. An HOA can generally accept or deny a person’s request to have an ESA at its discretion. Keep in mind, though, that some states may require HOAs to provide reasonable accommodations to ESAs if a legitimate healthcare provider prescribes it.

Therefore, all things considered, an HOA board should check the laws in their state first. It’s also a good idea to seek legal counsel from a lawyer. The decision, though, can vary depending on the association and board.

 

Can a Condo Association Deny an Emotional Support Animal?

Single-family communities typically have more freedom when it comes to accepting pets or ESAs. This is because these communities tend to have wide, open spaces, with owners having their own yards. The same can’t be said for condominiums, though.

Condo associations often have stricter rules against pets since there are many shared elements. Hallways, elevators, lobbies — these are all spaces that owners can access. Additionally, owners share walls with their neighbors in condo buildings. Thus, the noise problem that comes with pets tends to be more impactful.

Similar to HOAs, condo associations can generally choose to accept or deny ESAs. However, condo boards should consult with their lawyer to cover their bases.

 

Asking for Proof of Disability

Association boards can generally ask residents to provide proof of disability to accommodate their request. However, boards should never ask for the specific disability of the resident, as this would violate their privacy.

When it comes to emotional support animals, an ESA letter usually suffices. However, HOA and condo boards should know that there are ways to fake an ESA letter or certificate. Therefore, it’s best to proceed with care. When in doubt, it’s always best to seek advice from a legal professional.

 

Arm Yourself

Emotional support animals in HOAs have turned into a hotly debated topic in recent years. To protect itself from liability while simultaneously ensuring it provides a safe space for residents, an HOA should understand the intricacies of the subject. Of course, this is not always possible, especially if the HOA board lacks time or expertise.

This is where an HOA management company comes in. Start looking for a reliable one in your area using our online directory!

 

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