Your homeowners association may have a strict pet policy. Maybe it’s “no pets under any circumstance” or “no dogs over 50 pounds” or bans certain breeds of dogs or limits the total number of pets allowed in each unit. How does your HOA board navigate the situation when an owner requests to have a service dog or some other type of animal?
As always, the board should act in a reasonable manner. It’s important that the HOA board develops a procedure for processing requests for the accommodation of service, assistance and support animals in the Association.
The board should always follow the guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and take each request seriously. Once your procedure is in place follow those steps every time, with every request for accommodation.
You’re allowed to ask for some information to assess the request for reasonable accommodation. There are different levels of assistance animals which define what information is necessary and how the board should respond. Once the HOA manager or the board receives an accommodation request you should grant temporary approval while you investigate.
Levels of Service Animals
- Service Animal Dogs – this may also include miniature horses; special training is required and protected under ADA and FHA guidelines and may not be restricted, a request for disability related need is allowed if the disability is not apparent, a statement that the animal is trained to assist from a health care provider should be provided.
- Assistance/Therapy Animal – dog or other animal, usually some training is necessary. Reasonable accommodation can be requested, a request for disability related need is allowed if the disability is not apparent. This type of animal provides physiological or psychological benefit to the individual, a health care provider can provide a statement.
- Emotional Support Animal – dog or other animal, no training is required. Reasonable accommodation can be requested, request for disability related need is allowed if the disability is not apparent. Helps individual with depression or anxiety.
The FHA defines “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. That means a physical or mental impairment that’s serious enough to substantially affect activities of central importance to daily life, even if it isn’t obvious or apparent. The disability or reason for the request may not be apparent to the casual observer and clarification up to a certain point is allowed.
If the disability is not apparent you can ask for a statement from a health care provider which confirms the need. If a statement or letter is received from a health care provider no further investigation is required. The individual is not required, nor should they be asked to provide specific information about their disability. If information about the specific disability is revealed to the HOA board this information should never be shared outside of the board.
What Documentation is Needed?
You might receive documentation that the animal is a service animal and trained to provide assistance to the resident. You could receive a statement from a health care provider that states that the individual has a disability and needs an assistance animal; or letter from a health care professional stating that resident requires an emotional support animal. Either of these is all that the board needs to approve a request for reasonable accommodation to any pet policy that may exist.
You will likely have other residents ask why the resident in Unit 8 can have a dog but they read in the rules that pets are not allowed. You can only respond that a request for reasonable accommodation was granted, the other residents do not have the right to know the specifics.
Remember that any fees or deposits that your Association might require for pets cannot be charged for any of the animals described above. That does not mean that damage caused to the Association by the animal cannot be charged to the owner if your governing documents allow this. If the animal has acted threateningly toward other residents the law does not require that you allow a dangerous animal to live in your homeowners association.
Your property manager can help the HOA board understand service animals in your Association, or other important laws and topics, and put a procedure in place for reviewing these requests.