Cooperative Housing organizations and their management companies are often faced with requests from guests to bring dogs and other animals onto the premises when visiting members. What should the cooperatives response be to these requests? In most cases the response will depend on the type of animal or dog involved. Not all animals are created equal according to the law. There are emotional support animals, service animals, and pets. What’s the difference?Emotional Support AnimalsEmotional Support Animals and Comfort Animals are animals that provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. They are not limited to dogs or cats. These animals are not considered service animals.Service Animal
A service animal means any dog (or miniature horse) that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. A doctor’s letter does not turn a dog into a service animal. Nor does a vest or patch purchased on-line make a dog a service animal. Examples of animals that fit the ADA’s definition of “service animal” (because they have been specifically trained to perform a task for the person with a disability) include:. Guide Dog or Seeing Eye® Dog.
These are a carefully trained dog that serve as a travel tool for persons who have severe visual impairments or are blind.
. Hearing or Signal Dog
is a dog that has been trained to alert a person who has a significant hearing loss or is deaf when a sound occurs, such as a knock on the door.. Psychiatric Service Dog
is a dog that has been trained to perform tasks that assist individuals with disabilities to detect the onset of psychiatric episodes and lessen their effects.
(sensory signal dogs or social signal dog) is a dog trained to assist a person with autism.. Seizure Response Dog
is a dog trained to assist a person with a seizure disorder.
Attorney Kerry Lee Morgan is “Of Counsel” to Pentiuk, Couvreur & Kobiljak, P.C. Disability law is among one focus of his practice areas. He has extensive experience in advising housing clients in avoiding and resolving ESA issues and development of legally compliant pet, ESA and Service animal policies. Prior to his current legal affiliation, he served as an Attorney-Advisor with the United States Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, D.C. He also was appointed as the Director of the U.S. Bicentennial Project for Regent University. He resides in Redford, Michigan with his family, two shelties and one tabby cat.Pets
If the animal is not an emotional support animal or a service dog, it’s a pet.
So A Guest brings a Dog—What To Do?
What about a situation where a Cooperative member is not disabled and invites a guest and the guest wants to bring a dog along? What are the rules? What can management seek from the guest?
Under the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Cooperative must permit the guest and animal onto the premises if the animal is an Emotional Support or Assistance Animal. But if the animal is simply a pet, and the Cooperative has a “no pet” policy, the animal may be excluded. If a guest’s disability is obvious, the Cooperative should not seek any type of supplemental medical verification. However, if the disability is not obvious, management may seek competent medical information to demonstrate that the guest is indeed disabled and that there is a link between the animal and the disability.
But if the guest states that the animal is a “service dog” then the Cooperative may only ask the service animal’s owner two questions regarding the service animal and no others:
1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
An answer of “yes” to the first question and identification of the “task” in response to the second question ends the discussion. The service animal must be admitted. The Cooperative cannot require a special identification card or proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal as a condition for entry. Nor can the Cooperative ask the dog to demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
Only under limited circumstances may an animal be prohibited from entering the premises. A person may be asked to remove his or her emotional support or service animal from the premises if the dog or animal is out of control, the dog is not housebroken, or the animal’s presence will poses a legitimate safety concern, or direct threat, to the health and safety of patients, visitors, and staff that cannot be eliminated. See 42 U.S.C. § 12182.
As always, management should consult legal counsel if any uncertainty or doubt exists about what type of animal is present or in adopting a policy regarding guest animals.