New HUD Guidelines on Assistance Animals

Yesterday, January 28, 2020, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) released new assistance on guidance animals. Notice FHEO-2020-01 (“Assistance Animals Notice”) includes two parts:

Assessing a Person’s Request to Have an Animal as a Reasonable Accommodation Under the Fair Housing Act” contains best practices for complying with the Fair Housing Act (FHA) when assessing a person with a disability’s accommodation request involving animals in housing, including

  • differences between assistance animals and pets
  • types of accommodations that a housing provider may need to grant
  • assessing whether an animal is a service animal or an assistance animal other than a service animal (sometimes referred to as a support animal)
  • permissible inquiries regarding assistance animals, particularly if the individual’s disability is non-obvious or not otherwise known to the housing provider
  • the type of verification and documentation that a housing provider may request regarding an individual’s disability and disability-related need for an assistance animal
  • descriptions of the typical types of assistance animals
  • handling requests involving more than one animal
  • other best practices regarding reasonable accommodations for assistance animals.

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Guidance on Documenting an Individual’s Need for Assistance Animals in Housing” provides guidance on information that an individual seeking a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal may need to provide to a housing provider about his or her disability-related need for the requested accommodation, including supporting information from a health care professional.

One interesting statement in the Guidance:

Documentation from the Internet.

Some websites sell certificates, registrations, and licensing documents for assistance animals to anyone who answers certain questions or participates in a short interview and pays a fee. Under the Fair Housing Act, a housing provider may request reliable documentation when an individual requesting a reasonable accommodation has a disability and disability-related need for an accommodation that are not obvious or otherwise known. In HUD’s experience, such documentation from the internet is not, by itself, sufficient to reliably establish that an individual has a non-observable disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal.

By contrast, many legitimate, licensed health care professionals deliver services remotely, including over the internet. One reliable form of documentation is a note from a person’s health care professional that confirms a person’s disability and/or need for an animal when the provider has personal knowledge of the individual.

While the contents of the Assistance Animal Notice do not have the force and effect of law and do not bind the public, the documents do provide clarity regarding existing requirements under the law.

A summary Fact Sheet to the Assistance Animals Notice can be found at https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/PA/documents/AsstAnimalsGuidFS1-24-20.pdf.

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Author: Jim Slaughter
Articles have been Reprinted with permission from Black, Slaughter, Black.

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