RealManage Insight

Service Animals & Emotional Support Animals in HOAs: Rules, Laws, and Rights

by Holly Bunch on Jun 20, 2019 8:05:00 AM

Animals are very much a part of our families. Most of us enjoy animals as personal pets but for some, animals provide important service. There is a fine line between service animals, emotional support animal, and pets. Understanding the difference is important for enforcing pet restrictions in your HOA. Associations must follow federal laws yet protect members from pets that are aggressive or loud. Let's take a closer look at the dos and don'ts when it comes to service animals, emotional support animals, and HOAs:

The Federal Fair Housing Act  (FHA)

It is important to note that regulations under the FHA differ from those under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For associations, the FHA is the guiding agency when it comes to housing and service or emotional support animals

The FHA provides protection for both service and emotional support animals. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the agency that oversees the FHA, states that the person seeking the accommodation must first make the request to the association board. 

Documentation from a medical provider stating the person's disability and need for the animal must accompany and support their request. Not all disabilities are immediately apparent, making documentation helpful in certain cases. While an association board may request this information, they may not request access to medical records or unnecessarily delay the request.

Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals

The ADA defines service animals as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for someone with a disability. An emotional support animal is an animal, such as a dog, cat, or some other type, that provides therapeutic benefits through companionship. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not trained to perform tasks.

The ADA does not consider emotional support animals as service animals. However, this does not apply to the FHA, which allows emotional support animals when it comes to housing and associations.

Association Rights

A person's right to have a service or emotional support animal does not allow for an animal that is aggressive or a danger to others. It is reasonable to expect the person to maintain control of their animal at all times and to be responsible for any damage the animal may cause.

ADA guidelines for service animals do not apply to swimming pools. Service dogs can be prohibited from entering the pool water. There are no ADA guidelines for emotional support animals. 

Develop a Standard Policy

Perhaps the most complicated part of dealing with this matter is knowing when an emotional support animal is just that, and not a pet. According to HUD, it is better to deem an animal as emotional support rather than denying one for someone who truly needs it. 

Developing a standard policy or pass a board resolution with regard to service animals and emotional support animals is in an association's best interest. Be sure to work with an attorney in order to ensure your policy is legal and that it does not discriminate. A policy or resolution regarding service and emotional support animals is an association's safest protection against possible future litigation. 

About RealManage

Policies regarding animals are just one part of the complex world of association management. At RealManage, our professional team is highly skilled in handling issues like those that can arise with service and emotional support animals. 

Learn more about us and how we assist boards by providing excellent property management services by contacting us today. Service animals and emotional support animals provide valuable services to those in need. Finding the right balance between reasonable accommodations and the rights of other association members is possible with the right leadership. Let RealManage help your association navigate this and other association challenges by reaching out today. 

Better Management


Animals are very much a part of our families. There is a fine line between service animals, emotional support animal, and pets. Understanding the difference is important for enforcing pet restrictions in your HOA.

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