Guidance clarifying how housing providers can comply with the Fair Housing Act when assessing a person’s request to have an assistance animal because of a disability was issued this week by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing against individuals who have disabilities that affect a major life activity. Housing providers are required to permit a change or exception to a rule, policy, practice or service that may be necessary to provide people with disabilities that affect a major life activity an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their home. In most circumstances, a refusal to make such a change or exception, known as a reasonable accommodation, is unlawful. A common reasonable accommodation is an exception to a no-pet policy. A person with a disability that affects a major life activity may require the assistance of an animal that does work, performs tasks or provides therapeutic emotional support because of the disability. Housing providers may confirm, if it is not apparent, whether the requested accommodation is needed because of a disability that affects a major life activity and is a reasonable request.
This new Assistance Animal Notice offers a step-by-step set of best practices for complying with the act when assessing accommodation requests involving animals and information that a person may need to provide about his or her disability-related need for the requested accommodation, including supporting information from a health care professional.
“This law exists to protect millions of Americans with disabilities who rely on the support of their assistance animals – like those living with depression, military veterans suffering from PTSD and countless other deserving individuals,” said Vince Malta, president of the National Association of Realtors®. “But as NAR has stressed to HUD over recent months, these protections are jeopardized when a small minority seeks to exploit weaknesses in the system. NAR applauds Secretary Ben Carson for moving to stop this behavior, and we look forward to working with the department to further reinforce fair housing laws while protecting our members and the residents they serve.”
Kathleen McQuilkin, PAR’s 2017 president, chaired NAR’s Land Use, Property Rights and Environment Committee last year, which was one of the committees that worked on this issue. “NAR has worked hard with HUD over the last few years to consider all sides of this complicated issue. These new guidelines provide greater clarity on housing providers’ obligations regarding assistance animals. They also provide fairness to those in need of assistance animals, property owners and other nearby occupants,” she said.
Secretary Carson said, “Countless Americans rely on assistance animals to fill a void, providing individuals with disabilities with the means to have a home that supports their quality of life. In my many discussions with housing providers and residents impacted by the need for assistance, I recognized the necessity for further clarity regarding support animals to provide peace of mind to individuals with disabilities while also taking in account the concerns of housing providers. Today’s announcement responds to the ambiguity surrounding proper documentation for assistance animals with clarity and compassion to provide an equal opportunity for a person living with a disability to use and enjoy their home.”
“For decades, HUD has recognized the rights of individuals with disabilities to keep an assistance animal in the home where it is a reasonable accommodation,” said Anna María Farías, HUD’s assistant secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Housing is unique, and a person with a disability that affects a major life activity might need an animal that provides support in ways that is not readily apparent to housing providers. For example, veterans or senior citizens may need the assistance or therapeutic support of an animal to help them cope with the symptoms of a disability that affects a major life activity. This guidance will help housing providers to recognize the important way assistance animals can improve the lives of persons with disabilities and to meet their obligation to grant such accommodations.”
Additionally, this new Assistance Animal Notice provides information on the types of animals that typically may be appropriate and best practices for when the requested animal is one that is not traditionally kept in the home. It also provides information for both housing providers and persons with disabilities regarding the reliability of documentation of a disability or disability-related need for an animal that is obtained from third parties, including internet-based services offering animal certifications or registrations for purchase.
Persons who believe they have experienced housing discrimination may file a complaint of discrimination by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 or visiting How to File a Complaint on HUD’s website.