On January 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) released new guidance to clarify housing providers’ responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) when evaluating a tenant or potential tenant’s request for a reasonable accommodation related to a service or support animal. This new guidance can be found on HUD’s website at https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/PA/documents/HUDAsstAnimalNC1-28-2020.pdf.
This much-needed guidance aims to provide housing providers with advice on how to process, evaluate, and document a person’s requests to make exceptions to “no pet” policies for animals that provide disability-related assistance in housing.
Reasonable accommodation requests, especially those in relation to service and support animals, can be traps for unwary housing providers because only certain inquiries are permissible, these inquiries must be made in a particular order, and the level of documentation and proof required to support a reasonable accommodation request often differ from a housing provider’s expectations.
This new HUD guidance consists of two main sections.
First, the guidance recommends a set of “best practices” for complying with the FHA when assessing accommodation requests involving animals. Among other pieces of advice, the guidance includes information on (a) how to evaluate the differences between service animals, support animals, and pets; (b) permissible inquiries; (c) information that cannot be requested; (d) the order in which these inquiries must be made; (e) the types of proof and documentation that can be requested to verify an individual’s disability and the disability-related need for the animal; and (f) other recommended practices, such as record-keeping and handling unique/uncommon animal requests.
The second section of the guidance provides additional detail on documentation, including documentation that is sufficient to establish a disability and disability-related need for a requested accommodation. Notably, this section cautions housing providers to not disregard documentation from legitimate licensed health care professionals simply because they provide services entirely over the internet. This comment merits particular attention because of some housing provider’s assumption that more conventional documentation of a disability-related need for an animal, such as a letter from a local primary care physician, is required.
Although these documents clarify some of the existing requirements of the FHA, housing providers should handle reasonable accommodation requests for animals with great caution and establish consistent procedures for handling such requests.
This material is for informational purposes only. It is not and should not be solely relied on as legal advice in dealing with any specific situation.