Close to 80 million U.S. households have an animal in their home. Pets come in all shapes and sizes and provide companionship to their respective families, but there also are assistance animals that play an important role in the lives of people with disabilities and mental health issues by helping with day-to-day activities or providing emotional support.

In honor of May being National Pet Month, here is a summary of what constitutes an assistance animal, laws and regulations that apply to their ownership, and the approach community associations can take to rules and regulations specific to these animals.

Federal laws such as the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as state and local laws, govern assistance animals in community associations. Assistance animals are categorized in three groups:

  • Service animals. Work or perform tasks for which they are specifically trained for individuals with physical disabilities.
  • Therapy animals. Provide psychological or physiological benefit to individuals or groups in a clinical environment.
  • Emotional support animals. Provide comfort to people with mental health issues.

Community associations are required by the FHA to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities who request an assistance animal. Any animal that provides emotional support or physical benefits to an individual can be an assistance animal without training required. The FHA is enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Communities must recognize the rights of individuals with disabilities to receive the assistance they need within their home and comply with federal laws guaranteeing these rights. CAI’s Guide to Assistance Animals can help association boards learn the differences between assistance animals and applicable federal, state, and local statutes.

In 2019, CAI adopted a public policy, Assistance Animals and Pets in Community Associations, and model legislative language that seeks to balance the rights of individuals with disabilities who benefit from assistance animals with the need for community associations to adopt rules pertaining to them. CAI also supports legislation that specifically allows community associations to request documentation to verify the need for an accommodation for an assistance animal.

In recent years, there has been a rise in incidents where a pet is misrepresented to access federal protections granted only to service animals. In response, more than 30 states have passed laws that make it a crime to fraudulently claim a person has the right to be accompanied by a service animal or to fraudulently represent the pet as a registered service animal.

During CAI’s 2019 Advocacy Summit, more than 100 CAI members actively advocated their Congressional members to encourage HUD to provide clarification on how housing providers, such as community associations, should assess a person’s request to have an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation under the FHA. In January 2020, HUD issued this requested additional clarification. CAI also has developed resources for boards, managers, and residents to determine when to consider a reasonable accommodation.

>>To stay up to date on state and federal government actions that impact community associations, subscribe to CAI’s Advocacy Blog.

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