Each November 11, we honor those who have served our country with a national day of remembrance and thanks, Veteran’s Day. In 2015 there were more than 19 million Veterans in the United States. Of this group of heroes, more than 3.6 million of them have some form of disability related to their service. Increasingly, disabled veterans and others enjoy the benefits of service animals to assist them with life functions. Chances are that your community has a veteran living among you. For those with the need for a service dog, we can honor their service by understanding the role of service dogs and working to accommodate their needs in our condominiums and HOAs.
Service animals and service dogs in particular, are well known for their work with individuals with disabilities. When it comes to community associations it’s important to understand that service animals are not pets, and the association is required to accommodate the service animal under state and federal law, regardless of what the community documents say.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal which is trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. For example, some dogs are trained to pull wheelchairs, others are taught to alert to the sounds of the telephone, oven timers, alarm clocks, smoke alarms, and even a baby’s cry. Service animals are not considered pets. Under the ADA service dogs must be allowed into public places and in fact it is unlawful to refuse to allow a person with a service animal to enter into a public place. Service animals are most commonly dogs, but believe it or not, miniature horses have are also covered by the ADA and are trainable to a similar degree as dogs.
It is lawful to make limited inquires about a service animal. According to the ADA, when it is not obvious what the function of the service animal is, you can ask two questions of the animal’s owner. First, you may ask if the dog is required because of a disability. It’s important to note that you cannot ask what the disability is, just if the dog is required for the purpose of assistance. Second, you can ask about what task the animal is trained to perform. It is not acceptable to ask for any supporting documentation or certificates for the animal. Finally, if the animal becomes uncontrollable or is not house trained, the ADA allows them to be removed from the public space.
In addition to service animals, Associa clients are also seeing a rise in the use of emotional support animals. An emotional support animal is an animal whose mere presence provides relief to a condition or disorder the owner may suffer. Such animals are used to treat anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Unlike service animals, emotional support animals do not require training to perform specific tasks; rather it’s their presence that provides assistant to their owner. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not covered by the ADA. There are, however, some federal requirements that apply to emotional support animals. First, an emotional support animal is allowed to fly in a cabin with their owner. Second, such animals are allowed to reside in “No Pet” housing. So if your association has a not pet rule, and a resident has a request to have an emotional support animal reside with them, they must be allowed to have the pet regardless of the no pet rule.
While an association cannot exclude an emotional support animal they can require some documentation in support of the owner’s request. First, it is acceptable to require the owner to request accommodation for the emotional support animal in writing. Such letter should address the request for accommodating the emotional support animal, who accommodating the animal will benefit the resident, and be supported by a note from a doctor or other health professional in support of their request. Any such request should be respectful of the resident’s privacy, so there is no need to know the specific emotional disability of the resident.
As with any issue, courtesy goes a long way. Most persons who require a service dog or an emotional support animal are responsible folks who have a need for such assistance. Knowing the basics helps and if a question arises, it is always good to seek the advice of qualified counsel or other expert in the area. As we honor those who serve our country, we can honor them further by making sure we welcome them and their helpers into our communities.
In support of Veteran’s Day, Associa hosted an event with Patriot Paws, a charitable organization which trains service dogs for disabled vets. Associa is publishing this article to honor America’s Veterans and to educate boards and residents on the role of service dogs in their role supporting veterans and other individuals with disabilities. Associa made a donation to support the training of a service dog as part of this event.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew S. Fortin is the Senior Vice President of External Affairs for Associa. He works to engage government officials, the media and clients in building stronger community associations and help shape laws that support vibrant community associations.