The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has requested that the Federal Trade Commission investigate certain websites that sell assistance animal documentation for potential deceptive and unfair business practices. This action not only helps consumers avoid scams, but the letter should be of interest to landlords and property managers as it clarifies a common question about assistance animal certificates.
What’s the Issue?
Under the federal Fair Housing Act, a landlord must grant a reasonable accommodation for an individual with a disability when it may be necessary for the individual to have an equal opportunity to enjoy and use the dwelling. A common request for a reasonable accommodation is a request to keep an animal as an assistance animal, which would otherwise be prohibited under the landlord’s pet restrictions. Once such a request has been made, the landlord may be able to ask for additional information.
If an individual’s disability is not obvious or known, a landlord may request “reliable documentation” from the individual. HUD guidance says that reliable documentation could include things like a verification from a medical professional or a disability determination from a government agency. The documentation is said to be sufficient if it establishes that the person has a disability and that the animal will provide some type of disability-related assistance.
How Does this Relate to Assistance Animal Certificates?
A frequent question on the Texas REALTORS® Legal Hotline is whether assistance animal certificates—certificates or registrations purchased online by an individual in an effort to demonstrate an animal is an assistance animal under the Fair Housing Act—count as reliable documentation. HUD has long been silent on whether assistance animal certificates are considered reliable documentation.
In the letter to the FTC, HUD made clear that while a healthcare professional who provides services remotely, including over the internet, may provide a reliable verification of an individual’s disability-related need for an assistance animal, the provider must have personal knowledge of the individual’s disability-related need for the animal. Personal knowledge is knowledge of the type that healthcare providers ordinarily use for diagnosis and treatment.
In HUD’s view, these websites offer documentation that is not reliable because the website operators and healthcare professionals who consult with them lack the necessary personal knowledge about the individual. The websites typically obtain information from the individual through an online questionnaire or, at most, a brief interview.
What’s the Bottom Line?
HUD says that certifications, registrations, and other documentation purchased through these websites are not necessary, may not contain reliable information, and are insufficient to establish an individual’s disability-related need for an assistance animal.
It’s about time!
So, exactly how does that help? What, specifically, can landlords and property managers request if the documentation is from an online company? How is one to know the documentation is from an online group? If it is determined to be an online certification, can the landlord then refuse to rent to the potential client? Does this also apply to highrise developments?
My exact thoughts.Such an ambigous article.They need to jot down specific guidelines.
IN other words they still do not know. I think the direction is that the online certs could be challenged.
Amen! Thank you! Best News!
and can there be an exception to size…..and if the party “needs’ 2 animals……this is nutsy
Still waiting on a “final” ruling on this…. Is HUD, NAR, TAR, or the TWC Consumer Rights Division going to let us know IF AND WHEN we can reject these purchased on-line certifications for Assistance Animals? Our rear-ends are kinda hanging out in the open right now! How are we supposed to handle it when a Property Owner absolutely refuses to allow “pets” but the Tenant in the home has an Assistance Animal Certification purchased from an on-line “therapists”? As it stands now, we could be sued if we reject the Certification and we could be sued by the Property… Read more »
The population of Bolivar Island, TX is 2,417 – the number of Medical Emergency Passes for the Ferry Boat is phenomenal – do the research. It’s mind bending AND the service animal thing has only just begun… people with service animals WILL find doctors to do exactly has HUD has described. $$Money$$ always finds ways around rules and laws – LOVE of service dog surpass $$Money$$ on EVERY Level…. they will not put that rabbit back in the hat.
At long last! Moving in the right direction! So, to be clear, I can refuse the animal because the documentation from a random website, that I can also purchase for $69.95 is not considered reliable, and the psychologist’s letter from 6 states over, (with no stated evidence that the applicant ever resided in that state ) is now considered unreliable as well? Great day in the morning! Please TREC, TAR, pass this on to the Fed Rep and TAR legal counsel for the Winter Meeting so the Property Management Committee Meeting attendees can be advised properly, and we can avoid… Read more »
I have a service dog and it makes me sick when I see these people with their phoney service dogs. .
And they get away with this
So glad for this
Ok. They aren’t asking a prospective tenants actual diagnosis, correct? The doctors note would read something like I AM DR. CLAY AND BOY MAN IS MY PATIENT. AND NEEDS HIS ANIMAL AT ALL TIMES? Seems to be getting very close to infringement on Privacy regulations. No one wants to be responsible for their own choices any more. Use your judgement and be more informed of said tenant. I can spot a responsible pet owner immediately. Build your people skills before you let people live on your property. It’s common sense. This IS the real issue at hand. Iandlords dont want… Read more »
You missed the entire conversation. It is about service animals, not pets. A landlord CANNOT refuse a tenant who has a certified service animal. My liability insurance does not cover certain animals such as pit bulls, however with a certificate I am forced between no insurance and violating the law. Get it straight, there is a difference between a pet and a service animal.
Exactly. Landlords and Property Managers remain in a bad position.
While this article is confusing and possibly misleading, the letter from Secretary Ben Carson (HUD) on the link at the bottom of the article is much more clear as to the issues, the challenges and the direction of the resolution for landlords and property managers. I recommend reading the letter first, and recommend to TAR that you simply publish the letter from HUD next time and don’t try to interpret what was already very clearly written from the Secretary of HUD. Thank you for this link and information.
Well said Tim. The letter is very clear and is asking the FTC to investigate these websites that are offering documentation that does not pass the HUD standard for appropriate service animal certification. I appreciate this letter and clarification from HUD on this issue.
I agree with Rick, it’s about time!
This issue will continue to get refined to help avoid confusion and abuse. This is the key phrase “the provider must have personal knowledge of the individual’s disability-related need for the animal. Personal knowledge is knowledge of the type that healthcare providers ordinarily use for diagnosis and treatment.” “Personal knowledge” This is huge as it eliminates people just downloading a service animal certificate from an internet site.
I am a little late to this discussion, but I agree 100% with the statement regarding the online Docs not having enough knowledge of the person to properly diagnose them. I for 1 am sickened by the abuse that property owners are subjected to because of the extreme penalties for making a mistake in declining an animal. I currently have an owner with a 150 lb animal in their property because of one of these out of state doctors. It is beyond ridiculous. I would love to see some guidelines for qualifying like a local doctor with a minimum of… Read more »