Service Animal Clarification for Manufactured Housing Professionals
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently provided guidance to clarify how housing providers can comply with the Fair Housing Act when assessing a person’s request to have a service animal.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing against individuals who have disabilities that affect a major life activity. The act requires housing providers to permit a change or exception to a rule, policy, practice, or service when 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.
Exceptions to No-Pet Policies
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.
If not readily apparent, housing providers may confirm 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 will help housing providers by offering step-by-step guidance for service animals. It covers what accommodations should be made when a person asks about a disability-related need for the accommodation, including supporting information from a health care professional.
“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,” stated Secretary Ben Carson. “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.”
Fair Housing and Added Guidance for Service Animals
Anna María Farías is HUD’s assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity.
“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,” Farias said. “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.
“With the Assistance Animals Notice, both housing providers and individuals with disabilities will better understand their rights and obligations under the Fair Housing Act regarding assistance animals, particularly emotional support animals,” HUD General Counsel Paul Compton added. “For housing providers, this is a tool that can be used to help them lawfully navigate various sets of sometimes complex circumstances to ensure that reasonable accommodations are provided where required so that persons with a disability-related need for an assistance animal have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing. The guidance will help ensure that these important legal rights are asserted only in appropriate circumstances.”
How to Respond to Requests on Non-Customary Service Animals
Additionally, this new notice provides information on the types of animals typically used as service animals. 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 obtained from third parties, including internet-based services offering animal certifications or registrations for purchase.
Because they apply to more types of facilities than housing, the laws applicable to public accommodations and government-funded facilities, including Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, while sometimes overlapping with the Fair Housing Act, have different, and sometimes narrower, requirements.
Similarly, public transportation and common carriers, such as airlines, also are subject to differing rules. The notice refers only to scenarios regarding fair housing.