Animals: May a Community Ban or Restrict Them?

An Association may ban or restrict animals, if the restriction is: A) reasonable; B) enforced uniformly; and C) included in the governing documents. However, there are some exceptions: Service animals An Association may not ban service animals. A service animal is an animal that is trained for the purpose of assisting or accommodating a disabled person’s disability. There are no legal requirements for service animals to be specially identified. There are no special cards, harnesses, badges, or certifications that a service animal must have. To establish entitlement to a service animal, a resident must notify the Association that he or she is disabled and that a service animal is required in order to use and enjoy their home in the same way that a non-disabled resident would. The Association is permitted to ask only for information necessary to determine whether the animal is a reasonable accommodation because of a disability. If the disability is not obvious, the board may ask for documentation that the resident is disabled, but may not ask what the disability is. The board may also ask for documentation that the animal is necessary to help the resident cope with the disability. “Emotional support” animals An emotional support animal is an animal that is not specially trained to assist a disabled person, but instead allows a person with a mental health-related disability to function better or normally. The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) does not define nor does it mention “emotional support” animals. “Service animals” are required to have special training under the WLAD, and “emotional support” animals do not possess special training, so it seems that Washington law does not preclude Associations from banning “emotional support” animals. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) similarly does not mention or define “emotional support” animals. However, the FHA’s definition for “service animal” does not require that the animal have special training. Under the FHA, a “service animal” is an animal that is a necessary reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability. Under this definition, a resident’s animal is a “service animal” if: (1) the resident has a disability, (2) the resident requests the animal as a reasonable accommodation for that disability, and (3) the animal is necessary because of the resident’s disability. An “emotional support” animal would likely be considered a “service animal” under the FHA’s broader definition. Under the FHA, if a resident claims a disability and has an animal that meets the definition of a “service animal,” then that animal should be allowed in the resident’s dwelling even if the association has a “no pets” policy. There should be no charge or “pet fee.” If a resident does not provide any information about how the animal assists with a disability, the animal may be prohibited, but the risk to the Association of denying a claimed service animal is high. Our experience is that the Washington Human Rights Commission leans heavily in favor of any individual claiming a need for accommodation, and/or claiming that a "housing provider" (which, under the FHA, includes community associations) failed to make a reasonable accommodation in response to a resident's request. We urge community associations to handle such requests promptly, with caution, and with the aid of counsel to ensure compliance with state and federal laws and regulations. If you have any questions, please leave a comment or contact us.