When I do fair housing training, I always say to my audience that if one of you has a question, I am willing to bet another person in the room has the same question.  Suspecting that is the case with my Fair Housing Defense blog readers, I wanted to answer some recent questions sent to me:

To the best of my knowledge, there is no central database that publishes outcomes of all of the various fair housing cases filed around the country. Historically, HUD used the Title Eight Automated Paperless Office Tracking System (TEAPOTS) to track Fair Housing Act (FHA) cases for the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO). A couple of years ago, HUD’s Enforcement Management System (HEMS) replaced TEAPOTS in an effort to improve security and modernize the database. But, at least to my knowledge, neither TEAPOTS nor HEMS is available to the public. To be sure, I suspect you could file a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) or other open records request to get a list of the dispositions of agency or department cases

Here are some quick definitions:

  1. A ”service animal” is defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a dog that is specifically trained to performs tasks for its owner with a disability. Think of a dog that assists someone with a vision disability cross the street. For the most part, the ADA does not apply to residential apartment communities. The exception is that the ADA does apply to the leasing office for the property.
  2. An “assistance animal” is defined in the FHA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as an animal that works, provides assistance or emotional support that alleviates one of more symptoms of a person’s disability. An “assistance animal” is not required to have any training. Think of a dog that soothes or comforts an individual with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Also, while dogs are the most common assistance animal, the law recognizes that many other types of animals can qualify – such as cats, ponies, ferrets, and/or even snakes. This list is not exhaustive and I am not making this up.
  3. An ”emotional support animal” is a subset of assistance animals. These animals also provide emotional support to individuals with disabilities. Emotional support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, as well as can help with depression and anxiety. Unlike a “service animal,” an “emotional support animal” does not require any special training.
  4. A “companion animal” is another way to describe an “emotional support animal.” The terms “companion animals” and “emotional support animals” are used interchangeably.

No, professional apartment management cannot restrict breeds, sizes, or weights for legitimate assistance animals.  Yes, we can place those types of restrictions on pets.  But not on assistance animals.  If you have specific evidence (not a generalized fear) that a given animal is a “direct threat” — that can and should be documented.

There is no firm number of days (to my knowledge) that management must respond to a reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification request.  My general guideline is as follows:  responding within one week is absolutely reasonable.  Responding within two weeks should be considered reasonable.  Responding within three weeks can be considered reasonable.  Anything more than that risks a finding of not reasonable.

Yes, while I certainly take new fair housing cases, I am a defense lawyer who represents professional apartment owners, management, and management employees.  I do not take plaintiff’s cases as I want my clients to have confidence that an argument I use for them in one case will not be used against them in the next case.  Make no mistake, if you believe you are the victim of discrimination, you can reach out to HUD or a state, city, or county fair housing agency.  Additionally, there are various fair housing advocacy groups around the country providing advice and representing residents in these matters.

Hope that helps.

Just A Thought.