HUD Publishes Fact Sheet on Assistance Animals and Fair Housing
HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity recently published a fact sheet to educate housing providers and persons with disabilities who seek reasonable accommodations related to assistance animals. The fact sheet can be found at https://files.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/Assistance-Animals-and-Fair-Housing-Navigating-Reasonable-Accommodations-Fact-Sheet.pdf.
Reasonable accommodations may be requested at any time, in writing or orally, by or on behalf of a tenant or applicant with a disability; a household member with a disability; or any other person with a disability associated with tenant.
Assistance Animal Characteristics
HUD’s fact sheet highlights the following facts regarding assistance animals:
- Assistance animals are not pets and are covered under the Fair Housing Act;
- Assistance animals are trained or untrained animals that do work, perform tasks, provide assistance, and/or provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities;
- Assistance animals can be any common domestic household animal;
- An assistance animal assists a person with a disability-related need;
- Unique animals are not necessarily excluded, but the requestor may need to provide more information about why the animal that is not a common household animal is needed to meet the disability-related need.
Denying a Request
Under the Fair Housing Act a person with a disability includes individuals with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; individuals who are regarded as having such an impairment; and individuals with a record of such an impairment. Remember the term “major life activity” means those activities that are of central importance to daily life, which includes but is not limited to seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, caring for one’s self, learning, and speaking.
According to HUD’s fact sheet, a reasonable accommodation must be granted where there is a nexus between a person’s disability and the requested accommodation—that is, the assistance that the animal provides to that person.
The reasonable accommodation can be supported by a letter from a person knowledgeable about the individual’s need for the assistance animal, such as a healthcare professional, but such a letter is not required. A reasonable accommodation may be made at any time.
However, an owner can deny the request if granting it would be an undue financial and administrative burden for the housing provider, or it would entail a fundamental alteration to the nature of the housing provider’s operations. Examples of requests that may be denied include:
- The request wasn’t made by a person with a disability or on behalf of a person with a disability;
- There is no disability-related need for the accommodation requested;
- The specific animal in question poses a direct threat to the safety of others and there is evidence of such threat (such as testimony and video of the animal growling, barking, and lunging at multiple tenants in the lobby of the dwelling).
If you deny a request for a reasonable accommodation, you should be prepared to justify your decision. You should enter an “interactive process” before denying a request as unreasonable so as to discuss with the requestor whether any alternative accommodation would “effectively address” the individual’s disability-related needs without fundamentally altering the provider’s operations or causing an undue financial and administrative burden. The goal is to see if some sort of accommodation may still be achieved.