Pets: Service & Therapy Animals - (Part 1)
By Partner, Joe Stayanoff
There is a growing trend in community associations nation-wide arising from recognized changes in the Fair Housing Act (the "FHA") as well as in the Americans With Disabilities Act (the "ADA") that require pets, primarily dogs, to be permitted in previously animal-free or restricted communities. The reason: people with disabilities have been found to cope with life's demands more ably with an animal by their side. The disabilities which are said to be positively impacted by the assistance of an animal include epilepsy and seizure disorders, diabetes, various emotional and attachment disorders, and, of course, persons with diminished vision or blindness.
Almost exclusively, these animals are dogs and usually dogs of larger breeds. Very often it is dogs of the typical breed or size of a service or therapy animal that are restricted or prohibited in community declarations. Attempts to enforce those animal, breed or size limitations or restrictions could be found to be violations of the FHA and/or ADA provisions which prohibit under penalty attempts to discriminate or make inaccessible housing or amenities. But beware the hucksters - those people who claim to have a disability or need and thus require an otherwise impermissible or prohibited animal when no such need exists. Real service or therapy animals usually have certifications. And at the very least, true service or therapy animals would not be inordinately aggressive or vicious. For these reasons, board members are encouraged to investigate the circumstances of an animal's certification and the purposes for the animal's need based on a doctor's or therapist's recommendations and seek legal counsel before acting to prohibit or permit any animal not otherwise allowed.