Emotional-Support Animals and Community Pet Policies

Even if a community has a strict no-pet policy, emotional support animals are an exception. Here's what you need to know.

Question: What do monkeys, peacocks and snakes have in common?

Answer: They all freak me out.

Also, they’ve all been used as emotional-support animals.

Emotional-support animals, or therapy pets, have gone up in popularity in recent years. There are no statistics on how many there are out there, probably because unlike guide animals, support animals don’t have to be registered (or even trained!). Someone just needs to get a letter from a doctor saying the animal provides them with emotional support. And the animal could be pretty much anything.

And, for the most part, it’s usually great. People who need the support are able to get it. However, this could cause a problem if your apartment has doesn’t allow animals, or doesn’t permit certain breeds of dogs, etc.

Even if a community has a strict no-pet policy, emotional support animals are an exception. In order to comply with Fair Housing guidelines, property managers cannot discriminate against someone with a disability. So if a resident provides the documentation that they need this animal, the animal has to be permitted in the apartment. 

(Side note—there are exceptions, of course. According to CertaPet.com, there are several types of properties exempt from this, including a building with four or fewer units.)

This could cause some ill will among residents. For example, someone might get upset that they couldn’t keep their little poodle, while his neighbor in 12B has a support Burmese python in the living room. (To be fair, Fluffy the Python is really very sweet.) Or others may suspect that someone just wants to have an excuse to bring their dog everywhere and doesn’t actually need the support.

So what do you do?

You can certainly ask for proof that the animal is a support pet. Once you have it though, let it be.

Yes, people can pay to get pretty much any animal “certified” as a support pet, regardless if they need it or not. Stay out of it. It’s not up to you to decide who actually needs emotional support, and if you try, you could end up with a lawsuit on your hands.

If residents complain about these animals, refer them back to their lease, which hopefully has a line about this. Of course, make sure the renters with these animals comply with community rules—just because they’re permitted in the community does not mean they are allowed to roam free, and their owners are responsible for them.

And, as always, it’s always a smart move to check with federal, state and local guidelines, and consult an attorney when reviewing your policies about emotional-support animals. 

Oh, and stay out of Fluffy’s way. She’s super protective of her owner.

Do you have any emotional-support animals at your community? Post your comments on our Facebook page or send a tweet to @MHNOnline or @jfiur.