When dealing with a reasonable accommodation request for a service or companion animal, it is axiomatic that housing providers may ask individuals with disabilities that are not readily apparent to submit reliable documentation of the disability and the disability-related nexus for an assistance animal. But just who is appropriate to submit the medical verification?
Case law on the issue of the credentials of a medical professional remains a bit unclear. Individuals who are licensed by a public regulatory authority to provide medical care, therapy, or counseling to persons with disabilities certainly qualify. This includes, of course, doctors, physician assistants, nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. Guidance from HUD and DOJ intimates that a peer support group (a non-medical service agency) may also provide verification of a disability. But where does the acceptable health care verification line end? Is there some bright line test out there?
Not really. That being said, management should absolutely push back against medical verifications which were obviously simply purchased over the internet or look like they are from someone who charges by the minute on the phone or may have been obtained during an internet chat. I see these regularly. In an effort to avoid paying a pet fee, some residents go on line and purchase a Service Animal Registration for Rover for the low, low price of $69.99. Alternatively, I had a case in which a resident participated in an on-line chat with someone 2,000 miles away (at the rate of $2 a minute) to have Fluffy declared a companion animal. In both of these circumstances, I recommended we reject these medical verifications and require that the resident work with someone with credentials to appropriately verify a reasonable accommodation request. Is it theoretically possible that an internet based disability medical verification is legitimate? Sure, but most of what I have seen is just someone paying for a piece of paper. If you have a question or concern about a medical verification, I would suggest you send it to a lawyer like me.
Happy New Year to all. We will reconvene in early 2016. With apologies to David Letterman, my next post will be the Top Ten most read Fair Housing Defense blog posts from 2015.
Just A Thought.