Companion Pets and Service Animals How Do You Determine a Reasonable Accommodation?

Probably the biggest point of tension for any condo, HOA or co-op board is a pet ban. Enacting one can be a heated affair, leading to fights and arguments throughout the building community, but maintaining a ban on pets can also result in a massive headache. 

“I wish I could say otherwise, but the abuse is staggering, in general, for the emotional support animals,” says JoAnn Nesta Burnett, a senior attorney with the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Between the online websites that sell certificates, tags, vests, etc., and the medical providers that advertise to write letters for a one-time fee and after a one-time consult by phone or taking an online test (where they provide the answers), the abuse is difficult to control,” she says.

Do-it-Yourself Registry

There are a lot of websites that will provide people with badges and vests for their animals indicating that they are service animals for a certain price—around $70, according to our research—but those registries are all unregulated. There are no official registries for service animals; the only documentation that indicates if a service animal is legitimate or not is a doctor’s note.

“We do not accept the tags and certificates or the letters that we can establish are from registries (like the National Service Animal Registry; there is no recognized registry for ESAs or service animals) or the medical providers that advertise,” says Burnett.

What the law states, according to public information provided by the Judge Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, is that co-op and condo boards, in addition to landlords, must make reasonable accommodation for any and all disabled individuals. 

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Comments

  • In our community, we had a request from an owner for an emotional support animal. In researching this request we found that unlike a service animal there are few if any regulations around the emotional support animal, save for having some sort of documentation supporting the request from a registered therapist--but we had no choice but to grant the request. We did learn that we can make the same requests we do for owners of service animals, such as annual town/city dog license registrations, annual vet checks and shot records. However, this is a major difference in that a service animal is allowed anywhere the disabled person is allowed - into your club house, pool area, etc. but an emotional support animal does not have to be permitted to go anywhere the disabled person goes - the association can bar the pet from common areas - at least that's how our attorney read it for us in New Hampshire.