Mobilehome parks often have pet restrictions and pet conduct policies embedded within their rules and regulations; however, the park owners and managers must understand what restrictions are enforceable under the current laws. As a practical matter, mobilehome park pet restrictions and policies should be unambiguous and enforced equally throughout the park. Although failure to do so may result in potential liability, issues often arise that require a detailed factual analysis by an experienced mobilehome attorney. For example, ambiguity typically exists in the definition of a “pet” and that definition’s application to “service animals.”
What is the Difference Between a “Service Animal” and a “Pet”?
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a “service animal” is a dog that has been specially trained to assist people with disabilities (physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual). Mobilehome park owners and management must be aware of what information can be requested relating to a resident’s “service animal.” Specifically, park owners and management may request information relating to the animal’s specific training (including a detailed description of such training); however, under the rules of the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), park owners and management must be careful to not inquire about the resident’s disability.
Importantly, “emotional support animals,” also referred to as “companion animals,” are excluded from the ADA’s definition of “service animals.” These animals typically assist individuals with mental or psychiatric disabilities in a therapeutic way but, unlike “service animals,” do not require specific training. Although “companion animals” do not receive special training, the individual requiring the “companion animal” must have their disability diagnosed by a medical professional.
Why is Understanding the Difference Important?
Sometimes mobilehome park residents will attempt to evade size and breed restrictions by claiming that their “pet” is a “service animal” or “companion animal.” In doing so, the resident argues that the “pet” should be allowed as a reasonable accommodation under the Federal Fair Housing Act Amendments (FHAA). If you are presented with this argument, you should proceed with caution and contact your mobilehome park attorney immediately to ensure that you are properly complying with the applicable laws and regulations.