In a letter that is good news to those in the professional apartment ownership/management business, HUD Secretary Ben Carson wrote to the Chairman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) earlier this month asking that the FTC investigate websites that sell assistance animal medical verifications to individuals in an effort to permit those individuals to assert their pets are emotional support animals in order to avoid paying otherwise due pet rent and pet fees. In his letter, Secretary Carson wrote that “HUD shares these concerns” over what your humble Fair Housing Defense Blog Editor refers to as “click and pay” emotional support animal medical verification sites.

In addition to misleading Americans, HUD’s position is that the online sellers also “take advantage of persons with disabilities who need a reasonable accommodation to keep their assistance animals in housing. This request for the FTC action reflects HUD’s ongoing commitment to protecting the housing rights of persons with disabilities.” Additionally, HUD noted that some of these providers sell what appear to be certificates which look like they are affiliated with a governmental agency or are otherwise official U.S. government documents. HUD confirmed that there is no government-sponsored animal registration list nor are assistance animals certified.

Again, as I have written many times before, apartment management and our leasing office professionals will engage with residents to review their assistance animal requests. We approve requests literally every week. For disabilities that are not obvious, as the law permits, we seek only a legitimate medical verification – and something that was not purchased from an internet “click and pay” website.

As described by Secretary Carson in his letter, if an individual purports to provide a medical verification based on treatment given over the internet, that provider must have “personal knowledge of the individual’s disability-related need for the animal.” HUD describes “personal knowledge” as “knowledge of the type that health care provers ordinarily use for diagnosis and treatment,” as contrasted with simply self-selecting from an online questionnaire and assessment tool.

My clients and I welcome Secretary Carson’s comments and I hope the FTC acts against those who do a disservice to legitimately disabled Americans who need a service or emotional support animal. There will be more to come here.

Just A Thought.