Friday, September 28, 2007

Beware of (Service) Dogs

Once again, I've had a unit owner approach an association board with an assertion that his otherwise prohibited dog is a "companion animal", and thus must be allowed to reside in the association, with its owner, despite the association's prohibition against dogs.

This request has a new twist, however; the dog is a "registered sevice dog", and has a certificate -- suitable for framing -- to show it.

The certificate was obtained from, a site that provides, upon payment of $51.45, "downloadable forms" that can be completed and returned for a certificate. I don't know what the forms require, because I wasn't willing to pay the money, but the existence of the site reaffirms my suspicion that "service animals" are becoming more popular, and associations need to be aware of their rights on this issue.

The site, like many similar sites, sets forth a summary of rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The owner in question, like many owners, assumes that these ADA rights apply to them. The owner is wrong. Those rights may allow him to take his companion dog to breakfast at Denny's, but they don't have any application to his breakfasts at home.

Unit owners and occupants do have certain rights respecting "service animals", but the rights of owners and tenants arise from the Fair Housing Act, and those rights differ from the rights under the ADA. Because this issue arises more and more often, I thought it would be helpful to provide a short summary on the topic.

The case law in this area is still developing, but it appears as though the courts will uphold an association's right, in the case of service animals (and particularly in the subclass of "companion animals"), to determine (1) the legitimacy and general nature of the disability, and (2) the animal's ability to assist with the disability.

I recently prepared a policy for a local association; this policy was adopted in tandem with their general policy regarding animals. The policy, which should be considered as an example only, is available

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