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Lions and Tigers and Bears: Looking at Pet Policies

What do you say to a resident who requests an emotional support animal rattlesnake? Or in the more common scenario, your maintenance technician enters a resident’s unit to perform repairs and finds a pit bull living there?

It seems the resident conveniently forgot to report the pet to staff at the time of move-in. Then when you send the resident a letter informing him of the community’s pet policy prohibiting aggressive breeds, the resident produces a form letter from a website claiming the dog is an emotional support animal. Now what do you do?

If this has happened to you, you are not alone. Under federal law, an owner must accept a reasonable accommodation request for an assistance animal (also known as a service animal or an emotional support animal) if the resident has a disability and a disability-related need for the animal. The accommodation affords the disabled person equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling unit. It’s no different than a request for grab bars or a wheelchair ramp. A resident could not properly use or enjoy the apartment without the animal.

To address these scenarios, remember the law applies to reasonable accommodations. In your approval process, you may consider whether an accommodation for a poisonous snake would be reasonable. You should note that policies including breed, size and weight limitations may not be applied to assistance animals; however, the request may be denied if the specific assistance animal in question poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation.

This is a complicated issue. It makes owners and managers hesitant to deny requests because they could lead to a fair housing discrimination complaints and substantial legal costs. To help members continue to navigate this issue, we have made updates to our toolkit, Emotional Support Animals: A Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation Requests (member login required).

NAA is also offering What the What? A Primer for Emotional Support Animal Requests, a session focusing on this issue at the 2017 NAA Education Conference & Exposition in Atlanta. The session is scheduled for Friday, June 23, at 9 a.m., and features Katie Wrenn, Regional Training and Marketing Director at Milestone Management and Kirk A. Cullimore, Esq., owner of the Law Offices of Kirk A. Cullimore. Join us as our experts provide guidance on the basics of the law and how to utilize the resources in the NAA member toolkit.