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 animals that play an important role in the lives of people with disabilities and mental health issues by assisting with day-to-day activities or giving emotional support.
We offer 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 (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as state and local laws govern assistance animals in community associations (commonly known as homeowners associations, condominiums, and housing cooperatives.) Assistance animals are categorized in three groups:
- Service animals. Specifically trained to work or perform tasks 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.
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 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.
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