Assistance Animals

Common Questions about Assistance Animals

    Assistance animals are a big part of life in the multifamily industry these days. Whether they’re an emotional support or service animal, they provide so many renters with the help they need and the quality of life they deserve. 

    While apartment communities stand ready and willing to do all they can to provide welcoming environments for residents and their assistance animals, there’s no getting around the fact that these animals can present some challenges. 

    To start with, the volume and complexity of reasonable accommodation requests for assistance animals can quickly overwhelm property management teams. Meanwhile, operators also have to be on the lookout for fraudulent and insufficient accommodation requests while also navigating the various Fair Housing risks posed by assistance animals. 

    Here is an examination of three common questions that leasing teams and property managers have about assistance animals. Future posts will outline other frequently asked questions.

    Question No. 1: Is an emotional support animal allowed to go into the pool area?

    The short answer is “yes.” Assistance animals – whether they are service or support – can go anywhere your residents can go. This includes common-area spaces and the leasing office.

    So “yes” to the pool deck - but not in the water, of course. And “yes” to the business center, the fitness center, the co-working space, the outdoor grilling area, the theater room, etc.

    Question No. 2: How should you weigh the fears, phobias and allergies of other residents against a renter’s need for an assistance animal?

    In certain situations, an operator could end up between two people who are disabled. On the one hand, you have the renter with the assistance animal. On the other, you have a resident whose disability could be negatively impacted by the presence of the assistance animal. In these situations, operators are going to have to navigate and negotiate as best as they can. Try asking your residents for their preferred outcomes, and don’t hesitate to seek out the legal expertise you may need, whether that’s in the form of in-house counsel or outside assistance.

    More often, though, when a resident protests a particular assistance animal, it’s because of their discomfort, distaste or dislike of the animal. And those sentiments cannot be given the same weight as someone’s disability. 

    Question No. 3: Can a person have an unlimited number of emotional support animals?

    In theory, at least, there is not a limit to how many emotional support animals a resident may have. However, operators are unlikely to find themselves in a situation where a resident’s unit is housing half a dozen such animals.

    That’s because each animal has to offer a unique benefit and unique ability to ameliorate one or more of the symptoms associated with the disability of the person making the accommodation request. At a certain point, it becomes hard to substantiate, for instance, five different benefits from five different emotional support cats. Additionally, operators always have the right in the assistance animal accommodation request process to consider if the request is “reasonable” or not.