CAI is pleased to report that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has taken an important step to address concerns related to documentation from a “reliable third party” regarding emotional support animals. HUD Secretary Ben Carson asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate websites selling assistance animal documentation.
Last month, nearly 100 advocates from across the U.S. met with members of Congress in Washington, D.C., to discuss issues impacting condominiums, housing cooperatives, and homeowners associations. During meetings, CAI asked Congress for clarification on emotional support animals and urged members to contact Secretary Carson for guidance on the issue amidst an increase in requests for assistance animals.
Earlier this summer, CAI’s government & public affairs team sent a letter to HUD and to the Office of Management & Budget expressing concern about the documentation that may be requested by a community association when considering a reasonable accommodation request by a resident.
A few excerpts from Secretary Carson’s letter to the Federal Trade Commission are included below. This is not legal advice nor should it be considered official guidance from HUD.
- “Housing providers, fair housing groups, and disability rights groups have brought to HUD’s attention their concern that certain websites may be misleading consumers with disabilities into purchasing assistance animal documentation that is unreliable and unnecessary. According to these groups, the websites also may be selling assistance animal documentation to people who do have disabilities substantially limiting a major life activity, enabling such people to claim that their pets are assistance animals in order to evade housing providers’ pet restrictions and pet fees. HUD shares these concerns.”
- Housing providers also should not request information when the disability-related need for an assistance animal is observable or the housing provider already has information that would give the provider reason to believe an individual has a disability-related need for an assistance animal. Certifications, registrations, and other documentation purchased over the internet through these websites are not necessary, may not contain reliable information, and, in HUD’s enforcement process, are insufficient to establish an individual’s disability-related need for an assistance animal.
- Reliable disability-related information includes, for example, a disability determination from a government agency, documented receipt of disability benefits, or a note from a healthcare professional (e.g. physician, optometrist, psychiatrist, psychologist, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or nurse) stating that the individual has a disability (a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity) and a disability-related need for assistance that is or will be provided by an animal. In the case of an animal that provides therapeutic emotional support, the health care professional should explain that the animal provides or will provide the individual with support that ameliorates or assists the individual in coping with one or more identified symptoms or effects of a disability.
- A healthcare professional that provides services remotely, including over the internet, may provide a reliable verification of an individual’s disability-related need for an assistance animal if the provider has personal knowledge of the individual’s disability-related need for the animal. Personal knowledge is knowledge of the type that health care providers ordinarily use for diagnosis and treatment.
- In HUD’s view, the websites in question offer documentation that is not reliable for
purposes of determining whether an individual has a disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal because the website operators and health care professionals who consult with them lack the personal knowledge that is necessary to make such determinations. The websites typically obtain information from the individual purchasing documentation by requiring the individual to answer an online questionnaire or, at most, having the individual participate in a brief interview.
CAI will be communicating with Secretary Carson’s office for additional clarification on whether the statements made in his letter constitute guidance for housing providers.
Importantly, CAI members unequivocally support the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, or disability.