By Karyn A. Larko, Esq.
It is common for associations to have CC&Rs provisions or rules that prohibit residents from bringing pets into the clubhouse, pool complex or other portions of the common area. It is also increasingly common to see residents bring animals in these areas despite such prohibitions.
While it may appear that this trend is indicative of a growing disregard for the important role associations and their governing documents play in residential communities, the reality is that in many cases, these residents may have a legitimate right under federal law to have their animals with them.
Remember, homeowners associations are subject to the Federal Fair Housing Act (the “Act”). Under the Act, a housing provider (a homeowners association is considered to be a housing provider) must grant reasonable accommodations to those with qualifying disabilities whenever the accommodation is necessary to give the disabled residents an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their homes and the common area facilities.
One of the most common disability-related requests associations receive is to allow disabled residents to bring their service animals into portions of the common area where pets are prohibited. Under the Act, both traditional service animals (e.g., seeing eye dogs) and emotional support or comfort animals (“ESA”) qualify as service animals.
Because disabilities requiring ESA (e.g., depression, anxiety, PTSD) may not be readily apparent, it may not be possible to differentiate a pet from an ESA through visual observation of the resident. Moreover, because no specific training, skills, certification or characteristics are needed to be an ESA, many animals that you might not envision being service animals may, in certain circumstances, qualify as ESA service animals.
For these reasons, we recommend:
- Broach any apparent pet related governing document violation cautiously and discretely.
- Seek legal counsel any time a resident requests an exemption to any of the association’s pet restrictions on the basis that he or she is disabled.
Following these two key points are certain to help keep you and your association “out” of the doghouse!
 The benefits of an ESA are deemed to come from the animal’s inherent qualities, which include emotional support, comfort, and feelings of safety.