HOA’s need to have a plan in place for managing service and support animal requests
Generally, HOA’s and property managers will have blanket policies outlined for residents concerning pets in the community. Some may allow pets with breed and weight restrictions. Others may choose to enforce a “no pets” policy across the board. In either case, the policies designed for managing pet ownership may not apply when it comes to medically necessary animals.
Federal and state statutes protect the resident’s right to own service animals under certain conditions and circumstances. These animals assist people with certain disabilities. There are also regulations regarding emotional support animals, which may alleviate mental and emotional pain for those with certain disabilities or mental health conditions.
It can sometimes be difficult for community managers to know when it is necessary to accommodate an animal designed for accessibility, and what is required from them in order to do so. Here is a primer on how to manage the need for service and support animals in your community.
Defining service and support animals
The Fair Housing Act stipulates that service animals are not pets. They are defined as “work animals” that perform various duties to assist their owners who may need accessibility. This might include detecting and alerting an oncoming seizure, guiding a visually impaired person, and more.
Emotional support animals or “comfort animals” also assist their owners by easing pain caused by trauma, mental illness, and other conditions. For example, many sufferers of PTSD employ support animals to assist them in recovery.
These definitions are outlined in the Fair Housing Act, but there may also be applicable statutes in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the legislation in your particular state. It is very important to be aware of the requirements for housing providers in your area. You may be exposing yourself to unnecessary risk if you create policies surrounding service and support animals that are not compliant with the legal requirements from your state and municipal government.
Crafting policies for service animals
Crafting appropriate policy for your community surrounding service animals can be tricky. If you have a “no pets” policy, it can be difficult to know how to navigate resident requests for service animals.
Be cautious about denying claims or demanding medical proof for service and emotional support animals. Remember that not all disabilities are visible and putting up too many barriers in front of people seeking protected services can result in legal action against you, particularly if your state or local government has guidelines that you are not aware of.
When drawing up your policies for handling such cases, you can start by referring to the HUD’s memorandum for housing providers. This document provides guidelines for communities regarding accommodations for service animals.
While communities are required to accommodate service and comfort animals, you are permitted to enforce reasonable restrictions upon these animals. All residents, even four-legged ones, must follow the rules.
You are not required to tolerate behavior from the animals or residents who violate reasonable restrictions you create to ensure the comfort and cleanliness of your community. These restrictions might include rules about walking animals in designated animals, properly disposing of animal waste, leashing animals, and whether the animal must be spayed or neutered.
When to seek legal counsel
In the end, managing the need for service and emotional support animals in your community is not complicated. Although you will need to abide by the statutes surrounding service and support animals, you are empowered to create ground rules for all members of your community – including work animals.
Associations and managers need to be prepared to handle support animal requests, particularly if your community has a “no pets” policy. It is a good idea to seek legal counsel when crafting your policy and practices to ensure you are compliant with FHA, ADAA, and state-specific requirements.
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