Building owners and managers are increasingly being faced with a question: Can and should animals be allowed in commercial buildings? In BOMA International’s most recent state and local policy survey of BOMA local associations across the United States, nearly one in three respondents cited this issue as a growing concern during the past year.
As requests to bring animals into buildings proliferate, property teams are working to balance public safety with legitimate needs for assistance. Clear-cut guidance can be difficult to find, and the questions quickly multiply: What’s the difference between a service animal and a comfort animal? Where are comfort animals allowed? Are there differences between federal law and state laws? Are there benefits to allowing animals in the office?
In order to provide best-practice guidance, BOMA International is in a dialogue with BOMA local associations across the country about what they are seeing in their markets. What follows are just a few key issues that need to be considered when determining a building policy for service and comfort animals based on that dialogue.
The rules surrounding service animals on a federal level are relatively clear and are defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Service animals are specifically trained to perform tasks to benefit individuals with various disabilities. Businesses and organizations must allow individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by service animals. Documentation or proof that the animal is a service animal is not required, and a person with a disability cannot be asked to remove a service animal from the premises unless the animal is "out of control."
While guidance on service animals is clear, the rules on comfort animals vary widely, meaning that individual properties first need to know state and local rules. Depending on how much leeway they have, they then need to balance the pros and cons to determine a fair policy.
Comfort animals, sometimes referred to as emotional support animals, do not have the same rights under the ADA. They are not considered service animals, as they are not specifically trained for a certain task, but they can assist their owners therapeutically in coping with various conditions, such as anxiety and depression. These animals are not covered by federal law—outside of federal housing regulations—but some states have adopted laws that extend to comfort animals, making it necessary to check state law before enacting a policy.
Once the legal ramifications are confirmed, properties are still left with a difficult decision on whether to allow comfort animals or personal pets. On one side of the ledger, many of these animals provide genuine assistance to individuals in need and, more broadly, there appears to be a clear rise in requests from tenants to bring their animals to the office, also making this a tenant satisfaction issue. Allowing animals may offer properties in a competitive market an edge.
On the other side of the equation, however, considerations include wear and tear on the property, tenant and visitor allergies, noise concerns and potential liability. Ultimately, this is a building-by-building decision; but, with a thoughtful review of the building’s culture, careful lease language and strong enforcement, it’s possible to safely introduce animals into the workplace.
Viewing the issue as a priority, BOMA/Seattle-King County opted to spotlight it as the featured topic at a meeting this fall. "Seattle is experiencing a rising trend of animals in the workplace, especially with our many tech companies and nontraditional workspaces," says Rod Kauffman, president of BOMA/Seattle-King County. "As more and more BOMA members are asked by their tenants to allow pets into their buildings, we thought it would be helpful to organize a program addressing the opportunities and the challenges." The panel of speakers represented a range of perspectives, including a property manager, attorneys covering employment law and public accommodations and a janitorial contractor.
BOMA International is compiling resources from BOMA local associations across the country on this issue, so that municipalities can share best-practice information and will be releasing a white paper on the topic. For further information or to share what you are seeing in your market, contact BOMA International’s Director of State and Local Affairs Ken Rosenfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the November/December 2018 issue of BOMA Magazine.