When Calling a Pet an ‘Emotional Support Animal’ Crosses the Line Condo and Co-op Residents Test the Limits of Animal Permissions

(istock.com)

In an age of increasing global anxiety over any number of potential disasters, one can be forgiven for seeking comfort where they can get it. And for some condominium and cooperative residents, that comfort takes the form of an emotional support animal.

According to the ADA Network, emotional support animals are not considered service animals (unlike seeing-eye dogs, for example) under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Rather, “support animals 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...Therapy animals provide people with therapeutic contact, usually in a clinical setting, to improve their physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning.”

In the context of housing, particularly under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), says the ADA Network, “A landlord or homeowner’s association must provide reasonable accommodation to people with disabilities so that they have an equal opportunity to enjoy and use a dwelling... an individual with a disability who requests a reasonable accommodation may be asked to provide documentation so that the landlord or homeowner’s association can properly review the accommodation request.”

As the concept of an emotional support animal is still a relatively modern one, people have taken to interpreting it in some rather interesting ways. A man reportedly is facing eviction from his Clearwater, Florida condominium due to his unwillingness to part with his emotional support rescue squirrel, Brutis. Ducks and turkeys have recently taken to the friendly skies, rattling some plane passengers who are more oriented to seeing mostly humans on commercial airlines. Even pigs, monkeys, snakes and kangaroos have joined the ranks of creatures supposedly providing comfort for their human companions in exceedingly public places.

So the issue that presents itself is where – and how – to draw the line in a way that protects those with disabilities who truly need these animals and those with whom they cohabitate who have a right not to be confronted with a raccoon or some such in the lobby.

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4 Comments

  • A very thoughtful article, and much better informed than most. Your last line is good advice. I'm a lawyer specializing in disability rights cases for defendants like HOAs, and apartment owners. Know what documents can be asked for and when an accommodation is required often takes careful analysis because the supposed disability is often a mental impairment that may or may not meet the statutory definition of disability and there is often evidence (as in the man who lived without his dog for 2 years) that there is no disability related need for the animal. At the same time HUD can be very aggressive about penalties and damages in cases where it believes there was unlawful discrimination. It is unfair, but the Fair Housing Act has complexities that cannot reasonably be navigated by individuals without expertise in the area.
  • It's really easy to get a letter from the doctor that you need a dog for emotional support. My neighbors have a really huge dog. I never seen before so big dog. They brought a letter that they need this dog for the emotional support. Unfortunately the children and some people afraid of this dog and plus this dog is shedding. Our board president blamed me that I was harassing the owner when I asked them to clean after their dog. Is it considers as a harassment? Who should clean after the dog?
  • I am just appalled at your audacity that all people are lying. Yes, I am sure some do, but how do you think it makes feel reading what has been written? June 2016, my only son got hit by a car at 14 years old and suffered a fatal traumatic brain injury. I don't wish that pain on anyone. Nor do I wish the actual visual and emotional trauma that accompanied that pain. I found your article because I am moving back to an apartment (coop) that I own in the spring and has been a sublet which does not allow animals. So, I decided to research a bit to understand the challenges. My psychologist and psychiatrist are fully supportive of my cats coming with me because they know what a great loss I have incurred, my challenges for recovery, and will put it all in writing. I suffer from severe PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Thank god I work from home, because crowds and seeing other children causes me major distress. These cats know my every mood. They cuddle with me. If I cry, they come to me to soothe me. My move is big for me. Tone down your opinions. My property manager would be wasting his time and the coops money getting the advice of an attorney. Your article makes them believe that we are liars. Add the caveat that there are clear circumstances that support an ESA. Give some empathy when it is due. Best, Carol
  • Carol Guarinio, I think you are the one that needs to tone it down. I don't think you'll have issues with cats, but dogs are a completely different story. If you move in to a no pet building and then determine you need pets, there are wonderful real estate agents available to seek housing elsewhere.