How emotional support animal laws impact ‘no pet’ policies

On Behalf of | Jun 6, 2024 | Uncategorized |

Co-ops and condominiums have historically placed various restrictions on residents to maintain a certain standard of living and community decorum. One of the benefits of community living is being able to establish the rules and polices under which everyone lives.  These rules range from bans on smoking and strict quiet hours to prohibitions on holiday decorations. One of the more contentious policies has been the ‘no pet’ rule. However, legal challenges regarding emotional support animals have begun reshaping some of these policies.

Understanding the legal changes

In addition to protection under state and federal law, New York City’s Human Rights Law protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in housing contexts. The definitions of what constitutes a disability and what accommodations are deemed reasonable are broader under city law than under state or federal law.  One of the protections all of the laws allows includes the waiver of the no pet policy for an emotional support animal as a reasonable accommodations for an individual with a proven disability.

Common mistakes in ‘no pet’ policies

Three ways buildings can expose itself to potential legal action are:

  • Lack of flexibility: Policies that strictly ban or restrict pets without exceptions for emotional support or service animals can lead to legal challenges and potential discrimination claims. For example, in New York City, restrictions on breed and size of dogs when it comes to an emotional support animal are problematic.
  • Inadequate communication: Failure to clearly inform potential buyers or renters about the accommodation processes for emotional support animals can lead to misunderstandings and disputes.  NYC Human Rights law requires the parties to engage  in a “cooperative dialogue:” to address accommodation requests.
  • Poor enforcement mechanisms: Without a transparent process for verifying the need and qualification for an emotional support animal, buildings can struggle with enforcement and potential policy abuses.

Legally navigating ‘no pet’ policies

Despite the increasing recognition of the benefits of emotional support animals, some residents prefer pet-free environments. They may have chosen the building because they have severe allergies or fear of dogs. To balance both sides’ needs and wants on the issue, co-op and condominium boards need to delicately balance these needs  without infringing on the rights of individuals who require emotional support animals.

‘No pet’ policies can still exist, but accommodations must be honored when a resident presents a legitimate request for an emotional support animal. The standard for denial of an accommodation request is that the request poses an undue hardship on the building. Emotional support animals are not allowed to create a nuisance in the building or be a threat to other residents.  But boards should be aware that undue hardship is a high standard to prove.

It’s a delicate balance

As society becomes more aware of mental health needs and the roles that emotional support animals can play, it is crucial for boards and housing associations to  review their pet policies and procedures for dealing with reasonable accommodation requests.  By setting clear, fair rules that accommodate emotional support animals and the community’s preferences, boards can create a harmonious living environment for all residents.