Many community associations’ governing documents contain pet restrictions, sometimes prohibiting them all together. Most owners residing in such communities expect they will not encounter a pet not permitted to reside in the community. However, these assumptions are quickly becoming less common with the increasing number of requests for an accommodation by owners wanting to keep an otherwise prohibited emotional support animal (“ESA”) in their homes under the provisions of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”).

When a request for an accommodation to a pet restriction or limitation for an ESA is made to the association, the board reviewing the request is faced with the difficult task of distinguishing those individuals living with physical or mental impairments in genuine need of an ESA from the individuals simply using the provisions of the FHA to sidestep the pet restrictions and limitations of the community.

The challenge of determining legitimate requests from those requests made by people with other motives has only become more difficult with the increase of web services and similar organizations producing documentation supporting an ESA request for a fee. In most cases, these web services and similar organizations have no connection or relationship to the individuals for whom they are preparing the document for the ESA. The problem has become so widespread that issue is receiving regular news coverage. Even commercial airlines have even begun to crack down on the abusive practice.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) has been tackling this issue and gathering information from those advocating for people with disabilities and those receiving and reviewing the requests for ESAs. It appears HUD understands the difficulties faced by those on both sides of the ESA request equation. As a result, HUD is expected to issue revised guidelines regarding ESA requests and approvals.

The new guidelines may give landlords, property managers and community associations greater authority to verify the need for the ESA is legitimate. Additionally, the proposed guidelines may give landlords, property managers and community associations the ability better verify a healthcare professional’s relationship with the person requesting an accommodation for an ESA. It seems the proposed HUD guidelines will work to limit the use of web services and similar organizations with limited or no connection to the individual making the request for an ESA.

Although an unfortunate reality, more and more people with no legitimate need for an ESA are abusing the protections afforded under the FHA to avoid a community’s pet restrictions. Hopefully, the proposed new HUD guidelines will help ease the concerns of community associations and, more importantly, benefit those individuals who truly need and rely on their ESA.