The questions for boards and owners about access to all places in the development with service dogs is almost always a sticky one. If I were asked – do we have to allow (from the board) or may I have permission (from an owner) to take my guide dog (for blind person) anywhere in the development? That would be pretty easy. The answer would be a most emphatic yes! (Except maybe in the swimming pool or spa – for that I would have to balk because of health issues for others – any maybe for the dog.)
But it is rarely ever that clear. Here is the latest question from a reader:
“A question came up at work and I can’t seem to find a clear answer online. One of the homeowners went to the association gym over the weekend with his “service pet”. When he arrived to the gym the gym host noticed that the pet was not in the gym and asked the homeowner if his per was a service pet and the home owner said yes. The pet did not have a vest or any marking to state it was a service pet. The home owner then told our host that we could get a hefty fine for asking that question. Now, someone told me today that because we are a private community the ADA law doesn’t fall under our jurisdiction but that HUD jurisdiction takes place… Is that right? How does this work? What is the law and can we ask if the pet is a service pet?”
I wish I could say yes or no. The housing law does actually allow an owner to have a pet even if the condition is mild depression. Pets make people happier (usually). And there are service pets that provide very critical services to people like diabetics and those with heart conditions, that do not wear any special “clothing” or markings. I would say at least this:
(1) If the person does not keep the pet on a leash when out in public it seems unlikely that the animal is a service pet – at least it is my experience that service pets are specially trained and their owners keep them near and on a leash when out and about, or else their ability to give service would not be very effective. Fairly close proximity is important.
(2) I believe it is legal to ask the person what service the pet is trained to perform, and ask if there are any certifications available that the person could provide the board. I believe it is risky to ”demand” this information, or to ask specifically what condition the person has. A nice person might tell you but someone who believes they are “entitled” might instead report you to HUD, and a claim might be filed for asking.
(3) I know that even in the most eggregious situations, where people bring pets into a complex and break all the rules, that HUD will still usually stand behind THEM – and not YOU (the association), the one that has to listen to the barking, step over the poop in the laundry room, or bring in your small children when the dog gets aggressive.
Most people are courteous enough to offer an explanation of they have a service dog, without too much pressing, are responsible enough to control and take care of the pet, and make arrangements to clean up after them. It is the ones who end their sentence with – “… and there is nothing you can do about it.!” – who tend to cause their neighbors the most grief. And I believe most boards are open to listening and considering a person’s plight who has need for a service dog, but it is the ones who proclaim: “There won’t be no dogs roun’ here, ever, under any circumstances!” – that get the associations into hot water.