A Fair Housing Defense blog reader (thanks for stopping by) asked me to give an update with respect to potential guidance from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) and/or the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) concerning assistance animals generally and specifically how to review medical verifications related to emotional support animals (ESA’s). This opens a potential quagmire, but here goes:
As written here and elsewhere, professional apartment management companies continue to face an ever increasing stream of ESA requests. Some of which are absolutely appropriate and we want to approve them. Others, however, appear to have medical verifications that were simply purchased over the internet. The courts and HUD as well as various state, city, and county agencies are all attempting to interpret the Fair Housing Act in a manner which identifies: (a) that the requestor is disabled; (b) that there is a nexus (or link) for the requested accommodation; and (c) that the verification is legitimate. And this must be done within the bounds of medical confidentiality. What I see is that different agencies operate on different standards.
Now, the word on the street is that the Trump Administration was indeed working on supplemental guidance, which would also be reviewed by both DOJ and the Office of Management and Budget. Indeed, I heard rumors that HUD previously completed a guidance document last fall, but ultimately those materials were withdrawn so more work could be done. To my knowledge, nothing has been formally released yet.
It is likely that HUD is attempting to balance the views of the civil rights community (concerned about legitimate ESA and service animal requests) as compared with the housing industry (concerned about fraud and internet abuse of a law with good intentions). Where HUD comes out, I can’t be certain. I hope we will see guidance identifying the necessary type of relationship between a patient and a therapist as well as just what credentials are appropriate for someone to medically verify an ESA request.
Please know I will report back when (and if) HUD’s guidance is ultimately issued. Until then, we will take each request one at a time and respond to it as best we can.
Just A Thought.