Navigating the Fair Housing Act’s assistance animal accommodation requirements can be tricky for community associations. This becomes more difficult when individuals attempt to circumvent association pet rules by falsely claiming a pet as an emotional support animal.
Assistance animals are not pets. Federal, state, and local fair housing laws require that community associations accommodate residents who have a disability-related need for an assistance animal, including emotional support animals. Fraudulently claiming a pet as an assistance animal demeans fair housing rights, violates the rights of other community residents, and can lead to legal troubles.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Transportation have acted to restore the public’s confidence that accessibility statutes promoting the rights of individuals with a disability requiring a service animal are effective. By clarifying accessibility rules for assistance animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Air Carriers Access Act, these departments ensure that service animal accommodations help those the law was intended to help. CAI believes it is time for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to do the same for the Fair Housing Act.
States also are working to protect fair housing and accessibility rights for the disabled. As many as 23 states have adopted statutes making it a criminal or civil offence to misrepresent a pet as an assistance animal. CAI urges HUD to provide clarification on whether the organization recognizes these state statutes.
HUD can substantially improve the assistance animal accommodation process by stipulating that prescriptions for emotional support animals be written by a licensed or certified medical health professional. The proliferation of online sites that charge a fee for a diagnosis to customers with a mental health disability and provide emotional support animal certificates, vests, and leashes may dilute the effectiveness of fair housing statutes. HUD has authority to limit the impact of these schemes.