Contributed by Phaedra Howard

Many community associations have rules either prohibiting pets or restricting their number, size, and type. When it comes to service and support animals, board members and managers need to understand they are not deemed to be pets and are not subject to the same rules or restrictions as other animals. 

Communities with pet restrictions are likely to receive requests from owners and occupants for a reasonable accommodation to keep service and support animals. Associations need to process and respond to these requests appropriately and treat residents with service and support animals fairly to avoid potential liability for fair housing violations. 

Many boards and managers simply don’t understand what information they are permitted to request from an owner or occupant seeking an accommodation or what their obligation is if they do not receive sufficient documentation to support a request.  

The Department of Housing and Urban Development issued updated guidelines in 2020 to assist housing providers to respond to requests. The guidelines define what kind of information can be requested from a resident seeking an accommodation. The guidelines also contain recommendations for residents regarding what information they should provide in support of their request. 

If a resident requests an accommodation for a service or support animal, the association cannot request supporting documentation if the disability and the disability-related need for the animal are known or obvious such as a guide dog for a visually impaired resident.  

If the disability or the need for the animal are not known or obvious, the association can request documentation to verify the resident meets the definition of disabled under federal or state laws. The association also can request documentation regarding how the animal assists the resident to perform tasks or alleviate the effects of the disability. The documentation should generally be from a medical provider who has personal knowledge of the resident to diagnose or treat the resident’s disability.  

Each accommodation request must be handled on a case-by-case basis. The association must engage in an interactive discussion with the resident if there are concerns with requested or submitted documentation. Associations must work with an attorney knowledgeable in fair housing law to ensure accommodation requests are handled properly. Attorneys can evaluate the request and documentation to determine if the information is reliable, sufficient, and necessary.  

If the documentation is determined to be insufficient or incomplete, collaborate with the resident to obtain additional documentation to properly evaluate before simply denying the request.  

 Associations may adopt and enforce reasonable rules regarding service and support animals designed to ensure they are well-behaved and do not become a danger or nuisance to other residents. Adopting or enforcing unreasonable rules can result in liability for fair housing violations.  

Any rules and policies for service or support animals or procedures for handling reasonable accommodation requests should be reviewed by an attorney with knowledge and experience in the area to ensure they do not subject the association to liability for discriminatory conduct. 

Phaedra Howard is a partner with Hellmuth & Johnson in Edina, Minn., and a fellow in CAI’s College of Community Association Lawyers.  

>>Read the full version of “Paws and Reflect” in Common Ground July/August 2024. 

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