Many homeowners associations have strict no pets policies. However, there are some homeowners who need service animals in HOA communities. What can the HOA do about this?
In this article:
- Everything to Know About Service Animals in HOA
- ADA vs FHA Regulations
- FHA Requirements
- Can the HOA Reject Service Animals?
- Service Animals Policies in the HOA
- Unreasonable Service Animals Rules
- Taking Caution
- Where to Go From Here
Everything to Know About Service Animals in HOA
More than likely, you’ll have residents apply to your community who have service animals. Your HOA might find this topic confusing and don’t know how to proceed. This article will shed some light on what exactly is required for someone to deem their pet a “service animal” and how best to respond to the request.
ADA vs FHA Regulations
Amendments recently made to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations have limited the definition of a “service animal.” A service animal is any dog that has been trained individually to carry out tasks or work benefitting a disabled individual. This disability can be sensory, intellectual, psychiatric, physical, or mental. Under the amended definition, it states that simply providing a sense of well-being, emotional support, companionship, or comfort are not considered tasks or work.
However, this new definition does not apply to the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which doesn’t have a specific definition for a “service animal.” And some animals that bring emotional support to an individual have been recognized as assistance animals acting as reasonable accommodations in certain situations. This generally can happen when a homeowner association or condominium association places limitations on pets, so this is important for HOAs to keep in mind.
For the FHA to consider an animal to be a “service animal,” there must be three requirements met:
- The individual requesting the accommodation must have some type of disability.
- The animal’s purpose for assistance must be directly related to the disability of the individual.
- The request needs to be reasonable.
Obviously, you’ll want to get proof that the individual does, in fact, have a disability. Your association can do so by requesting professional documentation from the person’s doctor confirming the disability and the necessity of the service animal for that disability.
Can the HOA Reject Service Animals?
Because federal laws state that HOAs can’t discriminate against homeowners who need service animals, the HOA generally can’t reject them. The same rule applies even if the HOA has a strict no pets policy in its governing documents. After all, federal laws take precedence over an association’s documents.
As for emotional support animals, since the definition varies between the ADA and the FHA, the HOA might not know how to act when faced with a request for it. Some HOAs might worry that homeowners are simply trying to pass off their pets as emotional support animals. However, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which oversees the FHA, it’s in the association’s best interest to simply allow the animal in the HOA rather than deny the request of someone who really needs it.
There are some special cases, though, when an association can deny service animals in HOA communities. This applies to service animals deemed too aggressive or those that constantly destroy community property even after all measures are taken. The HOA can also deny a service animal if there’s irrefutable evidence against the homeowner’s need for it.
Service Animals Policies in the HOA
It’s a good idea to develop a standard policy when it comes to service animal requests in HOAs. When a homeowner applies for such a request, your HOA can ask for supporting documentation or proof. This can be like proof of disability benefits or documentation from a medical provider. In some states, homeowners can even register their service animals for certification.
It’s important to be careful when requesting documentation, though. The HOA shouldn’t ask specific questions about the requester’s disability. The HOA also has no right to gain access to the person’s medical records. Furthermore, the HOA shouldn’t delay the request to an unreasonable extent in an effort to punish the requesting party.
While service animals are generally well-behaved and trained, the HOA can also impose rules that state the animal can’t be a danger to other residents. The owner must always stay in control of their service animal and take responsibility for any harm or damage caused by the animal. Moreover, the HOA can ask owners to keep their service animals in HOA on a leash at all times and clean up after them.
Unreasonable Service Animals Rules
Of course, the HOA may be tempted to create or enforce rules that are too unreasonable or downright discriminatory. For instance, an HOA may want to charge an additional fee to those who own service animals in HOA. The association might request a security deposit of some sort. These monetary rules are considered off-limits and shouldn’t be enacted.
Other such rules include prohibiting service animals from entering certain areas in the community and restricting the breed, size, or weight of the service animals in your HOA. Keep in mind that these rules can result in unwanted legal action. The best course of action prior to creating or amending rules is to consult with your association’s attorney first. This way, you can cover all your bases.
Conflict can happen between associations and residents when the association suspects a request is simply stepping around a pet restriction in the community. The best way to address this concern is by discussing if the request is a reasonable one.
For example, if your association doesn’t normally admit pets at all into the community and the requestor is asking to have several pets, you’ll want to look further into whether all those animals are actually assisting the person. A possible compromise may be to permit one animal.
In most cases, though, requests will not be too much of a hassle for your association. The individual will make the request and provide the necessary documentation so you can approve their request. For issues such as those difficult requests, however, a homeowners association management company can help with handling them.
Where to Go From Here
All in all, a lot of associations deal with service animals in HOA communities on a regular basis. It’s critical to know what to do and when you can deny these requests. This way, you can ensure no legal troubles befall your association. In the end, the best way to protect your HOA is to act within the law and consult an attorney.
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