FOR ASSISTANCE ANIMALS
On January 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued new guidelines addressing assistance animals that individuals with disabilities may request as reasonable accommodations. They replace HUD’s 2013 guidance on service and assistance animals.
Assistance Animals Defined. Under the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), assistance animals are trained service animals or untrained animals that perform tasks and/or provide emotional support (“support animals”). Assistance animals are not considered pets and must be allowed if the individual needs the animal due to their disability.
The number of requests to HOAs for support animals has significantly increased. One of the most common fair housing complaints that HUD receives is denial of an assistance animal. According to HUD, the new guidelines were provided “to help housing providers distinguish between a person with a nonobvious disability who has a legitimate need for an assistance animal and a person without a disability who simply wants to have a pet or avoid the costs and limitations imposed by housing providers’ pet policies, such as pet fees or deposits.”
Internet Certification. Often, individuals requesting to keep a support animal have obtained a certificate off the internet. According to the new guidelines, these internet certificates are not “sufficiently reliable” to establish that an individual has a non-observable disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal. Rather, individuals need a note from their health care professional (who has personal knowledge of the person) that confirms the disability and/or need for the support animal.
Unique Animals. Requests to keep unique assistance animals have also increased and are addressed in the new guidelines. Unique animals are those that are not traditionally kept as a pet. Traditional pets are dogs, cats, small birds, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, other rodents, fish, turtles or small domesticated animals. An individual requesting a unique animal has a “substantial burden” of demonstrating a disability-related therapeutic need for the specific animal or the specific type of animal. Documentation from the individual’s health care professional confirming the need for the unique animal is likely required.
Best Practices. The new HUD guidelines provide best practices for documentation that can be requested to support a request to keep a support animal when the requesting person’s disability and/or need for the animal is not obvious. They should be read together with other HUD documents, including the Joint Statement with the Department of Justice on Reasonable Accommodation.
Our firm can assist associations in preparing guidelines and protocols for handling requests for reasonable accommodations.
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