Ask a a real estate pro: How do we make sure animals in no-pet community really are for emotional support?

Q: I live in a 55+ community that does not allow pets. Now there are many dogs in the community claiming to be emotional support animals. Can we put a stop to this? — Debbie

Q: In our no-pet community, the folks with ESA dogs allow them to run wild, using the whole property as their toilet. I get that we have to allow them their ESAs, but don’t they have to follow the rules still? — B.

A: The rules that govern an emotional support animal, or “ESA,” are different from those for service animals. Service animals, such as those that assist the visually impaired, are specially trained and governed by certain disabilities laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, or “ADA,” as well as housing laws.

ESAs do not require any training and are not covered by the ADA. However, they are often a legitimate form of therapy and comfort for people that need it. Unfortunately, these laws are sometimes abused by unscrupulous people. Many websites sell “ESA kits” to certify that a pet is a needed ESA. One Florida attorney even got a certain a cartoon pet certified as an ESA on behalf of a very famous mouse living in Orlando.

Because this is such a touchy subject and most people want to help those in need, many community associations have been reluctant even to question anyone who wants an animal in an otherwise no-pet community. Recently, because of some abuse, more and more communities are pushing back.

Associations are required to make reasonable accommodations for those in need of assistance. This does not mean “any” accommodation, and associations are allowed to verify that the ESA is needed and to put reasonable restrictions and rules regarding ESAs. Reasonableness is key for both the association and the person seeking the accommodation.

The association cannot question an actual doctor’s judgment, nor can an owner allow their ESA to run wild. Reasonable rules can be put in place restricting where dogs can be walked and requiring owners to clean up after. Violators can accrue fines and other enforcement per the community’s rules.

Board-certified real estate lawyer Gary M. Singer writes about industry legal matters and the housing market at each week. To ask him a question, email him at, or go to