US District Court, District of Nevada decision (May 23, 2014).

This case involves an ongoing legal battle between HOA members and their homeowners association over the members’ right to bring their Chiwawa dog (Angel) in the common area clubhouse. The homeowners contended that under the Federal Housing Act (FHA), the dog qualified as a service or assistance animal and was necessary to provide assistance because of a disability. The association challenged whether or not the dog was actually trained to provide the alleged assistance and whether or not assistance from the dog was necessary for the members to enjoy use of the association’s clubhouse.

The court concluded that existing case law does not provide a clear standard for what evidence establishes a disability-related need for an assistance animal and that the “reasonable accommodation” inquiry is “highly fact specific” and requires a case by case analysis. In so far as establishing that an animal qualifies as a service or assistance animal under the FHA, the court concluded that no special training is required for an animal to qualify as a service or assistance animal for FHA purposes. The relevant issue, which is generally a question of fact, is whether the animal in question “performs the disability-related assistance or provides the disability-related benefit needed by the person with the disability.” The court further found that a housing provider (homeowners association in this case) may request documentation of the disability, or the need for an assistance animal, “if the disability, the need, or both are not apparent.”

See case decision: Sanzaro_v._Ardiente_Homeowners_Ass’n_LLC_(D._Nev._2014)1