What You Need to Know About Service Animals in Washington, D.C.



Service dogs help individuals with disabilities enjoy a greater quality of life. And it’s up to all of us – including condo associations – to ensure they have equal access to the amenities and services all of us should enjoy.
 
But it’s clear that the presence of a service animal often gives rise to important questions – not only when it comes to access, but when you consider fairness to other residents and their guests. It’s critical that associations remain compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it’s clear that you should avoid situations where you limit access to individuals who are acting within their rights.

“The ADA has many provisions and definitions when it comes to service dogs and guide dogs,” said Phil Pool, vice president of FirstService Residential in the Washington D.C. Metro area. “It’s incumbent on us to understand these regulations so we can act fairly for all of our residents and guests.”
 
The following guidelines are meant to shed some light on service animals and the rights of individuals with disabilities when it comes to your Washington D.C. high-rise community.

1. Service animals are clearly defined.
According to the ADA, only dogs can be designated as service animals. There are more restrictions beyond that qualification –the dog must be trained specifically to perform certain tasks. Examples include guide dogs that assist the blind, dogs who serve alert functions for those who are deaf, dogs that pull wheelchairs for those who are challenged in the area of mobility, canines who remind individuals when to take medication, as well as dogs who calm those who have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The critical distinction is that these animals serve essential functions and are not there to act as pets. That means animals who provide comfort or emotional support do not fulfill ADA requirements for service animals. So if your building prohibits pets, then you may not be obliged to accommodate those animals that are there in that capacity.
 
2. Exercise care with your questions. 
If you see a resident or a guest with a dog, your immediate inclination is often to ascertain whether this animal is a pet or a service dog. That’s understandable. But inquiring about the difference should be handled with care. In fact, there are only two questions you can ask if the dog’s purpose isn’t obvious:
 
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task does the dog perform?

You are in violation of ADA requirements if you ask about the individual’s specific disability, or if you require any formal medical documentation that justifies the presence of the animal. You are also prohibited to ask for any proof of the animal’s training, or to request a demonstration of the dog’s capabilities.

3. You can request removal of an animal, but only in limited circumstances.
The ADA doesn’t mandate that you accommodate all animals at all times. Even if a dog is a bona fide service animal, you can request its removal if its handler does not have control of it. That means the dog must be leashed, tethered or under strict verbal command at all times. Additionally, if the dog is not housebroken, you are not obligated to accommodate it. Otherwise, if the animal is a service or guide dog, you must allow it to stay – even if others are allergic to it. If that instance arises, provide accommodations for both parties – even if it necessitates separate locations. You cannot ask either individual to leave the premises.

4. No fees may be charged.
Your condo association is prohibited from charging additional fees for a service animal – even if your community does not allow pets. If high-rise communities allow pets but only with the remittance of an additional fee, that fee cannot be charged to owners of service animals. Remember, under ADA stipulations, the animal cannot be classified as a pet. 

5. Some documentation is required.
Under no circumstances can your common interest community ask a disabled person for documentation proving their dog is a service animal. However, many states do require that these dogs be registered and licensed.

ADA compliance can be difficult, but remember what you’ve read here and you’ll be able to address most of the confusion when it comes to service animals. For more information, contact FirstService Residential, Washington D.C.’s leading community association management company.