Contrary to popular belief, service animals and emotional support animals have two different functions, and as a result have different rights. The primary difference is that service animals are recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act because of their high level of training. The primary function of these animals is to performs specific jobs for an individual with a disability. Emotional support animals, however, are not recognized by the ADA due to a lower level of training. However, the Fair Housing Act still mandates that people with emotional support animals have equal access to housing.
Laws mandate that a resident with an emotional support animal have a letter from a licensed mental health professional (not simply a primary care or other physician) to prove that the animal is needed. Service animals are not required to have specific documentation to be considered a service dog, but HOAs can require proof or documentation to prevent the occurrence of residents just trying to skirt around the regulations.
Most service animals are very well trained. However, your HOA still has the right to require that these animals follow the rules. If a resident has requested that a service animal live with them, it is important to establish rules of behavior for this animal. Things such as leash regulations, waste clean-up, and noise restriction are all important items to consider. In so doing, you can help to protect the other homeowners in your community, and keep every safe and happy.
Size and breed restrictions cannot apply to either service or emotional support animals.
There are still a few situations that would allow an HOA to have an exemption from being required to allow a service or emotional support animal. There are several things you can confirm before allowing the animal. First, the homeowner must have a confirmed disability. Second, the animal must be confirmed to aid the homeowner with this condition or disability. Third, the request must be within reason. Also, certain circumstances may exempt you outright from allowing the animal such as a building with less than four units with the landlord residing in one of the units. Check with local laws before proceeding with any request.