I occasionally field questions from clients about whether an Association needs to ignore their dog rules for an “emotional support animal.” Many boards and developers are surprised to know that they DO NOT need to alter pet rules to allow an emotional support animal. They can if they want to, but it is not required by federal law.
Let me give some background. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires a landlord or condominium or homeowners association to make reasonable accommodations to permit disabled persons to enjoy the full use of their properties. This includes making reasonable accommodations to permit “service animals” if necessary to assist people with disabilities. The short rule is that an association really cannot prohibit or significantly regulate a “service animal.”
The definition of “service animal” is the important part. A service animal is (usually) a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The tasks performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. The ADA makes a specific distinction between a service animal and an emotional support animal. A service animal has been trained to do a specific job. The US Department of Justice website addresses this question specifically and concludes that an emotional support animal “provides comfort just by being with a person. Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”
By definition, an emotional support dog is not a service animal. This is because either the Unit Owner does not have a disability, the dog is not trained to do a specific task to manage that disability, or both. Because the animal is not a service animal protected by the ADA, a developer or condominium or homeowners association may treat it like any other animal in the building. This could mean banning it, or requiring it to wear a muzzle, or whatever else the board would do for any other similar dog.