Loyal Fair Housing Defense blog readers (thank you very much) know that I defend (and report on) what seems like a never ending stream of emotional support animal (ESA) housing discrimination cases these days. The typical run of the mill case comes with a medical verification that looks like it was purchased over the internet with a credit card (as opposed to from a legitimate health care or medical professional who has an actual relationship with a disabled patient). My Firm’s accounting department likes these cases; although my clients are certainly irritated by the continuing cost.
Among my goals for the past couple of years has been to compile a thick stack of dismissals on the merits from cases involving internet purchased ESA letters to use as precedent as more and more get filed. To date, I have a few. And I cite to them in my responses. But, I am seeing a trend. In a number of these cases (particularly those filed by certain fair housing tester groups, you know who you are), once I push back and assert that the medical verification is, at best, questionable and subject to further scrutiny, the complainant stops cooperating with the investigator. While at the end of the day I get my no probable cause dismissal (which is always good), it can be for “failure to cooperate” with the investigator as opposed to on the merits. Which is less useful to our industry.
I continue to hope the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) and/or the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issues supplemental guidance that helps professional apartment management defend against these internet letters and the cases derived from them. From time to time I hear unofficial rumblings that something is being discussed, but I have nothing with respect to if or when new guidance will be published. In the interim, I still have a number of what I suspect are fraudulent ESA cases and I will continue to wait for more and more dismissals on the merits. Which will help all of us who work to comply with the letter and spirit of the fair housing laws.
Just A Thought.