On January 28, 2020, HUD released a new guidance document on the rights of people with disabilities to obtain an assistance or service animal in their housing. The document, “Assessing a Person’s Request to Have an Animal as a Reasonable Accommodation Under the Fair Housing Act,” replaces HUD’s 2003 notice.
Under the Fair Housing Act, a housing provider who refuses to allow a “reasonable accommodation” to rules, policies, or practices to allow a person with a disability to use and enjoy their housing may be violating the law. As HUD notes in the guidance, a common request housing providers receive is for a reasonable accommodation to a “no pet” policy so that a person with a disability is permitted to use his or her assistance animal in the housing.
| The guidance restates HUD’s previous interpretations of the law in a number of places, including that:
The guidance also reviews when housing providers may request verification of the person’s disability or disability-related need for the assistance animal.
The guidance specifically states that “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” (p. 11). This type of documentation contrasts with legitimate, licensed health care professionals that deliver services remotely, including over the internet.
With regard to the type of animals that may serve as an assistance animal, the guidance distinguishes between those “commonly kept in households” – such as a dog, cat, small bird, rabbit, hamster, gerbil, other rodent, fish, turtle, or other small, domesticated animal – and other “unique animals” that are not commonly kept in households (pp. 12-13). An individual with a “unique [assistance] animal” has a “substantial burden of demonstrating a disability-related therapeutic need for the specific animal or the specific type of animal.” In most cases, such a request would depend on unique circumstances, such as an animal trained to perform tasks or work that cannot be performed by a dog, an individual with an allergy to a dog, or an individual who seeks to keep the animal outdoors in a fenced yard where it can be appropriately maintained.
More information about reasonable accommodations can be found in the HUD/DOJ Joint Statement on Reasonable Accommodations.
Click here for a printable brochure about Fair Housing and Assistance Animals.
More from this Newsletter Issue: Spring 2020
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