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Property Management Blog

HOA Homeowners in Vancouver, WA: What Are the Rules Regarding Support Animals vs. Service Animals

System - Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Contrary to what you might have heard, emotional support animals and service animals are not the same. Additionally, a homeowners association (HOA) has the right to create a 'no pet policy' but may need to accommodate service animals.

But, can your community restrict one over the other, both, or none? This guide will explain what you need to know about fair housing and how they are connected to HOA rules.

Keep reading to learn what your HOA community can and cannot do.

Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Animals

Emotional support animals differ from service animals because of their training. Service animals are trained to perform disability-related tasks for their owners. Service animals are often dogs that can serve many functions.

Emotional support animals don't need specialized training to offer their owners support.

Also known as therapy animals, emotional support animals can alleviate symptoms of disabilities and might be trained for simple tasks, like reminding owners to take their medication.

Service Animals in HOAs: What the Law Says

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 (FHA) protects people from discrimination while pursuing housing-related activities. Because of this federal law, people with disabilities can request accommodations from an association.

Service animals are reasonable accommodations because they perform services that can assist people with disabilities.

For example, service animals might receive training to detect sounds for deaf owners or to guide someone who is blind. There are also service animals that can call for help if someone has seizures and can calm someone with PTSD.

Because the Fair Housing Act of 1968 is a federal law, it trumps HOA rules or regulations involving pets. It's important to tread carefully if your HOA community is dealing with these requests.

HOAs cannot refuse a homeowner's request for a service animal or emotional support animal, nor can they deny a new homeowner because they have a service animal.

Imposing HOA Service Animal Rules

Although service animals are well-trained, an HOA board can still require animals to follow certain rules. Establish rules ahead of time for homeowners who request a service animal to live with them. These rules might include:

  • Leash regulations
  • Waste clean-up
  • Noise restriction

These rules are plausible and follow the laws. There are other rules that are off-limits for service animals in HOA communities, such as:

  • Asking for pet fees
  • Asking for pet security deposits
  • Restricting pets based on breed, size, or weight

Services animals must be allowed on all premises within the community. However, if a pet damages any community property, the HOA can charge the pet owner for repairs and, if necessary, replacements.

HOAs and Service Animals: Following the Law

An HOA community must follow the law regarding service animals and emotional support animals. Although service animals and support animals are different, they are both protected under the FHA, a federal law.

To ensure your community follows service animal laws and other laws pertaining to community living, work with an experienced HOA management company.

Contact Invest West Management to learn what we can do for you.

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