I have written in this space (and elsewhere) about the difficulties encountered by professional apartment management companies in the face of emotional support animal medical verifications from residents that are purchased over the internet for the low, low price of $69.99 (or $125 if you need the letter overnight). In an effort to meet the test in the Fair Housing Act (FHA), these form letters note a “disability” or “impairment” which “substantially limits a major life activity” and recommend an emotional support animal. Management is given no other confirmation the resident ever met with the health care professional or is actually a patient with legitimate mental health needs.

In an important decision concerning medical verifications and emotional support animals, a U.S. District Court judge last week issued an opinion confirming that letters which only provide that a resident has a “mental illness” or has “certain limitations” are insufficient.  The judge was unmoved by such rote language and noted that the resident presented “no medical facts to support her claim she was disabled.” The court also noted the resident identified “no activity, no less a ‘major life activity’ that she claims was impaired by her ‘mental illness’”. The judge then concluded “the diagnosis may be accurate, but it fails to set forth any facts regarding if or how any of [the resident’s] conditions ‘substantially limits’ a major life activity.”

I have a number of clients who are now appropriately raising questions when these internet assistance animal letters are provided as a purported medical verification.  Now, let me make clear – all of my clients will approve legitimate service and emotional support animals for our residents. We absolutely want to comply with the law. But we are seeing an ever-increasing number of residents and applicants turning on their computers and with just a few quick clicks (and a credit card) are buying letters from someone they have never met or otherwise never had any type of real health care professional relationship.

What did the court do? It dismissed with prejudice a complaint alleging management violated the FHA by seeking supplemental information to confirm that an emotional support animal reasonable accommodation request was legitimate.

How did I learn about the case? My Fair Housing Defense group wrote the briefs.

Just A Thought.