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Handling Emotional Support Animals

The concept of ESAs (Emotional Support Animals) is wonderful. There’s no doubt that our beloved animal companions help us to destress. They can even naturally sense when we’ve had a rough day. However, they are not specially trained service animals. 

Depending on your HOA’s pet policy, you have to be careful with what you do and don’t allow in terms of pets versus service animals – and you need to be clear in your policy where ESAs fit in.

“Just Buy a Certification”

If your HOA has any pet restrictions or fees, you may get requests for exceptions to those based on an animal being a service animal or an emotional support animal. 

It’s important to understand that these are two different designations, and that the requirements for how you comply are issued by two different entities. Service animals are specially trained to provide a specific service and fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Consideration for emotional support animals is mandated by Federal Fair Housing (FHA). 

Unfortunately, some people attempt to circumvent any rules or restrictions regarding pets by simply going online and buying their pet an ESA certification.  

If you can easily purchase a certificate for something, it’s safe to say that you’re not specially qualified for that job. No one would want to go to a dentist or even a hairstylist who just decided that’s what they wanted to be and bought a certificate online saying they were qualified. The reality is this has become extremely common when it comes to emotional support animals. 

What Can Your HOA Do?

First, it’s important to understand that ESAs are not covered under the ADA, so you are not required to provide any special accommodations to be in compliance. This is a claim that’s often expected to be the end of any further conversation about it. 

That said, Federal Fair Housing regulations do require that reasonable accommodations be made for residents. Allowing an ESA is a reasonable accommodation, but your HOA is also allowed to request adequate documentation of both the need for a service animal and the animal’s credentials that allow them to fulfill that need.

If you are presented with an ESA letter, it is your responsibility to verify that it is legitimate. One of the best ways to do this is to have your HOA’s attorney handle all ESA-accommodation requests. This separates your HOA from conflict with a resident and ensures that the verification process is handled in full compliance of FHA guidelines. We can help! Give our team at Fernandez Law a call 

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