As an HOA or condo association board member, you know how complex managing a community can be. Whether it’s disputes among neighbors, implementing new policies, providing financial disclosures or handling maintenance issues, there are many tasks to handle and different people to please.
While seasoned board members may feel like they’ve seen it all, handling service animals at a community can be daunting, as the law surrounding their use is not well-known by either board members or community members. The lack of education and awareness about service animals at “no pet” communities, apartments or condos can cause confusion and discord that board members must manage effectively to avoid legal and community relations issues.
If you find yourself knee-deep in service animal complaints right now, or have recently fielded a formal request for a service animal and are unsure how to handle it, Comsource is here to help with an overview of what you and your board need to know about service animal management at your community.
What Types of Service Animals Are There?
All service animals are not the same: there are nuances and legal differences that apply to different kinds of service animals. The primary distinction is that of a service animal versus an assistance animal.
A service animal is defined by law as an animal that is trained to perform certain tasks for its owner, like a guide dog for a visually impaired person. These animals need to be with their owners at all times and in all places.
An assistance animal does not perform a specific task, but rather delivers a physical or emotional benefit to its owner from living with and accompanying its owner. For instance, this type of animal could detect impending seizures or provide emotional benefits to a person suffering from anxiety or depression.
Service animals are most commonly defined as dogs, while assistance animals can be dogs, cats or other companion animals. There are no housing legal restrictions when it comes to the size or breed of these animals, for the most part.
What’s the Law?
This blog is meant to provide a general overview of the law pertaining to service and assistance animals. Please consult an expert community management company or legal representation for specific details as to how these laws apply to your HOA or condo association.
Generally speaking, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 outlines the housing law as it pertains to service animals. Assistance animals and emotional support animals are not included in the ADA regulations. The ADA applies to housing owned by state or local government, or its instrumentalities, regardless of federal financial assistance, so this might not be applicable to your HOA community or condo association building. According to the ADA, a service animal may only be a dog.
What will more than likely apply to your HOA or condo association’s management activities is the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, national origin, familial status, and disability. The law includes provisions for assistance animals. The FHA provides rights for disabled persons to have an assistance animal or work animal, including those that provide emotional support. The FHA’s assistance animal regulations are broader than the ADA’s in that the ADA specifically requires an animal be trained in a specific task, like being a seeing-eye dog.
General Requirements for Assistance Animal Compliance
Again, please consult a community management expert or legal counsel for specific details about how the ADA or FHA service/assistance animal regulations could impact your community. Broadly speaking, individuals protected by the ADA/FHA animal provisions have the following rights:
- An HOA/condo association or landlord cannot charge pet fees, extra rent or deposits
- An HOA/condo association or landlord cannot ask an individual about their disability
- An HOA/condo association or landlord cannot make the animal register or undergo specific training
- An HOA/condo association or landlord cannot refuse housing because its insurance doesn’t cover assistance animals
The obvious requirement is that communities with “no pet” policies have to provide reasonable accommodation for assistance animals, provided an individual can furnish proper documentation to the HOA/condo association or landlord.
- It is within the law to request this documentation
- HOA/condo associations and landlords can also charge for damages caused by an assistance animal or pursue eviction should the animal pose a threat or exhibit consistent unruly behavior that disrupts the community
Keeping the Peace, Remaining Compliant
Managing service and assistance animals in your community can be challenging. Educating your community about ADA and FHA accommodations can go a long way towards creating understanding and diminishing any perception of unfairness among your residents.
While you must remain compliant with the law, it’s also essential that you maintain peace and harmony among your homeowners.
Understanding the basics about service and assistance animal law is the first step. Digging deeper to see how these laws apply to your specific community comes next. Finally, embarking on a communication campaign to educate your residents about the law and why policies are in place will ensure the smooth integration of service and assistance animals within your community.
This issue is just one of many faced by HOA and condo association boards. Partnering with an experienced community management firm that can handle issues like FHA and ADA compliance can alleviate some of the burden faced by all-volunteer boards that might not have the time or subject-matter expertise to handle these issues. Reach out to Comsource today to learn more about how we can help your board provide the comprehensive oversight and expert management services your community members deserve.Contact Us