Why you should accommodate assistance animals

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) saw increasing numbers of complaints regarding refusals to provide reasonable accommodation for assistant animals. The Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations when a person with a disability requires such accommodation. The reasonable accommodation provision applies when persons with disabilities seek to use assistance animals in connection with their housing. Assistant animals include service animals, therapy animals, and emotional support animals. These assistant animals are not “pets” but provide certain tasks for the benefit of a disabled person. HUD does not require the assistant animals to be trained or certified, in order to qualify as an assistant animal.

In evaluating a request for a reasonable accommodation from a “no pets” policy, HUD advises the housing provider must consider the following:

(1) Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability (i.e. a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?).

(2) Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?

When the answers to questions 1 and 2 above are ‘yes” the Fair Housing Act requires the housing provider to modify or provide an exception to a “no pets” policy to permit the person with a disability to live and use an assistance animal in all areas of the premises. Further clarification of exceptions or grounds for denial of an accommodation request can be reviewed at HUD’s Service and Assistant Animal Advisory FHEO-2013-01.

One case HUD brought was against a property owner and real estate company in Carson City, Nevada. A woman filed a complaint with HUD alleging that the housing providers denied her request to keep an assistance animal in an apartment. The woman provided documentation from her doctor detailing the need for a service animal due to her disability. The housing provider adhered to a strict “no pet” policy because the floors had been recently upgraded to hardwood. The woman’s claims were resolved with the housing providers paying the woman $6,000.00, attending fair housing training and adopting reasonable accommodation policies.

In another case, HUD brought charges against a condominium association that refused to grant a reasonable accommodation for a prescribed assistance animal. The charge provides while the association waived its “no pet” policy, it demanded the 75lbs animal be carried in a crate or carrier in the common areas and that the Complainants only use a service door rather than the main entrance. The Complainant then provided a letter from the Complainant’s physician explaining that her disability prevents her from using a carrier for the 75lbs assistance animal. Nonetheless, the complaint alleges the association began to issue fines against the complainant for refusing to place the pet in a carrier as required by the association’s rules. Among other things, HUD is seeking damages to compensate the Complainant for the association’s discriminatory conduct, an injunction against further discrimination and a civil penalty against the association.

To avoid similar charges make sure your colleagues and staff are familiar with the Fair Housing Acts requirements concerning reasonable accommodations for persons with a disability. For specific inquiries and additional resources, contact your local HUD office for more information.

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