Service and Comfort Animals

The ADA definition of a service animal was revised on March 15, 2011 as follows:

“Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler’s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition”.

Under the ADA an “Emotional Support Animal” or “Comfort Animal” or Animal Assisted Therapy” (AAT) Animal is not a service animal as defined above. It does not assist a disabled person with daily living activities. Emotional Support Animals are prescribed in a treatment process to alleviate a person’s depression or other psychiatric disabilities. However, under the Federal Fair Housing Act, which applies to homeowner associations, a housing provider is required to make reasonable accommodations for Assistance Animals including Emotional Support Animals even though they are not trained to do work or perform tasks. Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, an Assistance Animal can be a Reasonable Accommodation.

Therapy animals are used by medical and counseling centers to treat patients with various emotional or social problems. Therapy animals can include cats, dogs, rabbits, and other animals.

To overcome pet restrictions, a person must show two things:

  • They have a legal disability, and
  • The animal helps alleviate the disability.

Boards can require proof of a disability before allowing an animal that violates the association’s restrictions. Boards cannot demand to know the specific disability, only that the person has a disability and the service animal is required. Such proof is usually in the form of a doctor’s letter.

A “disability” is defined as a “physical or mental condition or impairment that is medically cognizable, and diagnosable, and that substantially limits one or more of a person’s major life activities”. These limitations may include: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, and learning. A person is substantially limited in major life activities if the individual is unable to perform the activity, or is significantly restricted as to the manner in which he or she can perform that activity when compared to the average person. Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, the physical or mental condition or impairment must limit one or more of a person’s major life activities. It is not required to be a “substantial” limitation.

Associations must reasonably accommodate people with disabilities who use guide, signal, service dogs or assistance animals. Associations may not apply breed and weight restrictions to restrict such animals from the community. As provided for in the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing guidelines:

“Persons with disabilities have the right to use the service of a guide, signal or service dog or other such designated animal and to keep such animals in or around their dwellings. Landlords may reasonably regulate the presence of the animals on their premises but may not impose any extra charges or security deposits. Tenants, however, are liable for any damage caused by their animals when proof of such damage exists”.

Associations are treated as landlords under the law. Owners are treated as tenants under the law.

Any person who knowingly and fraudulently represents himself or herself, through verbal or written notice, to be the owner or trainer of any canine licensed, qualified or identified as a guide, signal, or service dog shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, by a fine not exceeding $1,000, or by both a fine and imprisonment.


Coast Management of California