Published on: May 13, 2020
In response to the increased number of requests for assistance animals in housing accommodations throughout the country, on January 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued guidance clarifying how housing providers, including condominium and community associations, should handle such requests. The new guidance addresses some of the questions that have arisen in the past few years, including the trend of online certificates and certifications of disabilities.
As a result of the new guidance from HUD, condominium and community association boards and property managers finally have some clarity on whether they must accept online certificates and certifications as valid forms of documentation to support a request for an assistance animal. As many of you know, and likely have seen in recent years, there are websites which sell certificates, registrations and licensing documents for assistance animals to anyone who answers certain questions or participates in a short interview and pays a fee. These certificates provide no information about the person requesting the animal, but rather simply state the animal is a “Certified” or “Registered” assistance animal. In the new guidelines, HUD states such documentation from the internet is not, by itself, sufficient to reliably establish an individual has a disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal. This is definitely a good step forward in preventing fraud and abuse when it comes to requests for assistance animals.
In addition to online certificates and registrations, our office is also frequently presented with letters from licensed health care professionals which were obtained over the internet. While HUD has stated the certificates and registrations are not valid, HUD did not go as far with respect to letters obtained from websites. Specifically, the HUD guidance states, “HUD does note that many legitimate licensed health care professionals provide services remotely, including over the internet. A note from a person’s health care professional that confirms a person’s disability and need for an animal when the provider has personal knowledge of the individual may be considered reliable documentation.” Based on this statement from HUD, boards and property managers cannot simply reject letters simply because they came from a website, but rather first must determine whether the professional issuing the letter has personal knowledge of the resident’s disability need for the animal.
Another notable clarification in the HUD guidance concerns the types of animals a resident may request as an assistance animal. Our office has seen requests for customary animals such as dogs and cats, but we have also seen requests for more unique animals, including requests for a snake, small pig, and an iguana. According to HUD, in most circumstances, a housing provider only needs to approve requests for animals commonly kept in households; for example, a dog, cat, small bird, rabbit, hamster, gerbil, other rodent, fish, turtle, or other small, domesticated animal that is traditionally kept in the home for pleasure. HUD states reptiles (other than turtles), barnyard animals, monkeys, kangaroos, and other non-domesticated animals are not considered common household animals, and as such, except in unique circumstances, a housing provider will not have to approve such non-domesticated animals. If the person is requesting to keep a unique type of animal that is not commonly kept in households, then the requestor has the heightened burden of demonstrating a disability-related therapeutic need for the specific animal. The individual in this situation should submit documentation from a health care professional confirming the need for this animal. Such documentation should demonstrate why the unique animal is necessary. For example, any unique circumstances justifying the person’s need for the particular animal (e.g. allergies prevent the person from having a customary household animal); or without the animal the symptoms or effect of the person’s disability will be significantly increased.
In addition to the above items, the HUD guidelines contain a few other important points:
- The housing provider may not require the health care professional to use a specific form, or to make statements under penalty of perjury.
- The housing provider should make a determination promptly, generally within 10 days of receiving the documentation.
- While most requests for reasonable accommodations involve one animal, requests sometimes involve more than one animal (for example, a person has a disability related need for both animals, or two people living together each have a disability related need for a separate assistance animal).
- Housing providers should not reassess requests for reasonable accommodations that were granted prior to this issuance of this new guidance from HUD.
- A resident may request a reasonable accommodation either before or after acquiring the assistance animal.
- A person with a disability may make a reasonable accommodation request at any time, and the housing provide must consider the reasonable accommodation request even if the resident made the request after bringing the animal into the housing.
- A housing provider may not deny the accommodation on the grounds the person requesting the accommodation has not provided the necessary information until the requester has been provided a reasonable opportunity to do so.
- Before denying a reasonable accommodation request due to lack of information confirming an individual’s disability or disability-related need for an animal, the housing provider is encouraged to engage in a good-faith dialogue with the requestor called the “interactive process.”
- Examples of health care professionals who may provide the documentation require to qualify a resident for an accommodation may include a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or nurse.
Finally, the new guidance from HUD also serves as a reminder of some of the “dos and don’ts” for boards and property managers related to requests for assistance animals. Most notably:
- Housing providers may not charge a fee for processing a reasonable accommodation request.
- Housing providers may not limit or restrict the breed or size of a dog requested.
- Housing providers may not charge a deposit, fee or surcharge for an assistance animal, but may charge the resident for any damage caused by the assistance animal.
Overall, the new guidance is a step in the right direction and hopefully will help to curb some abuses of the system, while also providing boards and property managers with clarification on issues they have encountered and will likely continue to encounter.
For a copy of the new guidelines please [click here]. If you have any questions about the new guidelines, or if your association receives an request for a reasonable accommodation and would like our office to review, please contact Matthew Gaines at firstname.lastname@example.org or Pamela Jonah at email@example.com.