Most planned communities and Home Owner's Associations have some pet restrictions. These restrictions vary by limiting the size, number, and type of pet that can be kept.
Most pet restrictions will be upheld by state courts if they are apparently drafted but that does not protect them from a federal challenge under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”).
Fair Housing Act Prohibitions
The FHA does not allow property owners to prevent residents from leasing a space due to their disability. Pet policies that prevent people with disabilities from signing a lease are strictly prohibited by the FHA.
Don’t forget these prohibitions extend beyond seeing-eye dogs. Animals are used in a variety of ways to help people with disabilities, including dogs that alert for seizures and partner-animals that comfort people who have PTSD.
Your pet policy needs to include a mechanism that grants exceptions for potential residents who rely on their animals to assist them with their disabilities. Failure to adopt a reasonable accommodation could result in sanctions or a lawsuit from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Qualifications for Reasonable Accommodation
The FHA includes a definition for disabled people, so you don’t have to guess. A person is disabled if have they either a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits at least one major life activity. They should possess a record of the impairment.
Impairments include a variety of conditions include speech, visual, and hearing impairments; multiple sclerosis, autism, muscular dystrophy, heart disease, HIV, and a broad range of other conditions and diseases.
You are permitted to adopt policies that require an objective relationship between the individual’s disability and the service or assistance that the animal provides.
If this objective relationship is met, the property must allow the accommodation and permit the resident to sign a lease and keep their animal. However, you can avoid granting the accommodation, if you can prove the following factors:
- If the accommodation would impose an undue financial or administrative burden;
- Or if the accommodation would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of the other residents which cannot be reduced or eliminated with other accommodations; or
- If it would cause serious physical damage to the property of other residents.
How do you grant a reasonable accommodation?
You are permitted to request additional information to confirm the disability and the necessity of the animal. However, if the disability is obvious or apparent, and the connection with the animal is readily discernible, you are prohibited from requesting additional information.
This is a relatively gray are so it is best to err on the side of caution. For example, a potential resident that is blind obviously needs a seeing-eye dog to navigate through life. Conversely, a person who suffers from PTSD and requires a companion animal is less obvious. But if you do request additional information, make sure it is under an established policy and that it is done with special care.
You may request the following information:
- Information that confirms the potential resident meets the definition of a person with a disability under the terms in the FHA;
- Documents that describe the need for an accommodation; and
- Information that explains the relationship between the person, their service animal, and the requested accommodation.
Issues to avoid
As a last minute reminder, this section will discuss several issues you should never do to avoid an FHA violation.
First, you are prohibited from charging a deposit amount for the accommodation animal. You are required to treat everyone the same in the FHA, including people who need service animals.
Second, you cannot require that the service animal undergoes special training before the resident moving in. The service animal will know everything it needs to know to care for its person.
Third, you cannot require the assistance animal to wear special gear, insignia, harnesses or anything else that identifies it as a service animal. That decision rests with the resident.
Finally, you cannot inquire about the extent of the person’s disability nor can you request medical records. You can ask for information about the disability, as it relates to the accommodation, but you cannot pry into personal details.
Ultimately, these decisions are done on a case by case basis, which is why it is helpful to retain the assistance of an HOA property management company. A professional organization is experienced at granting accommodations and ensuring that all FHA rules and regulations are obeyed. The teams at Property Advantage operate numerous properties and are well-versed in complying with all necessary laws.