Associations Don’t Need to Grant Every Service Animal Request

It sometimes seems like community associations and their managers always come up on the losing end of cases related to owners’ service animal requests. But this week we’ll review a ruling from the Michigan court of appeals that makes clear that associations aren’t required to grant every request.

Janis Creswell owns a unit in a subdivision governed by the Fox Bay Civic Association. The deed restrictions for the community prohibit owners from constructing fences unless they submit detailed specifications to the association, along with a $25 review fee, and the association approves the project in writing.

According to the deed, the restriction is intended to ensure an aesthetically pleasing and “harmonious” subdivision. The association had previously approved only fences surrounding swimming pools, which are required by state law.

Creswell suffers from several illnesses and was prescribed an emotional support dog; she also owns a registered service dog. After buying her home, she built a fence around her backyard to keep the dogs in, without submitting an application.

The association notified her that she had violated the deed restrictions. It requested removal of the fence and informed her of reasonable alternatives that wouldn’t violate the restrictions, including a dog run or invisible fence. Either would allow her dogs to use the yard without her present, but she refused both.

In an attempt to avoid litigation, the association offered retroactive approval for the fence if she obtained consent from all her neighbors. She couldn’t secure the necessary consent.

In an unusual twist in these types of cases, it was the association — not the owner — that turned to litigation. It filed a lawsuit alleging Creswell was in violation of the deed restrictions and asked the court to issue an order that she take down the fence. She argued that the association violated the federal Fair Housing Act and its state law counterparts because her request to keep the fence was a reasonable accommodation.

The trial court ruled in favor of the association, finding no discrimination occurred because reasonable alternatives to the fence were available. Creswell appealed.

To learn why the Court of Appeals ruled in the association’s favor, read our new article Association Can Refuse Fence for Service Dogs.

Best regards,
Matt Humphrey
President