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What is the difference between an emotional support animal and a trained service dog?

While both are referred to as assistance animals, service animals and emotional support animals are defined and dealt with differently under federal laws. A service animal is defined narrowly under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as any dog (or miniature horse) that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Emotional support animals are expressly precluded from qualifying as service animals.

Dogs, with or without training, and other animals that provide emotional support have been recognized as emotional support  animals under the reasonable accommodation provisions of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). While emotional support animals do not qualify as service animals under the ADA, they may nevertheless qualify as permitted reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities under the FHA. Thus, the FHA requires that an association make a reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities, which may include not enforcing a pet restriction against an individual who demonstrates the need for an assistance animal.

There is a lot of abuse in this area of law by individuals who attempt to maintain animals in violation of an association’s policy.

“There is no requirement that service and/or emotional support animals be certified and anyone can obtain a certificate online for a nominal fee,” said attorney Alessandra Stivelman. “These certificates are essentially meaningless for an association’s determination of whether to allow an assistance animal to reside in a community as a reasonable accommodation to the association’s pet policy. ”

Alessandra Stivelman, partner at Eisinger Law is AV rated and focuses her practice on community association and real estate law.

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