In what some think may eventually reach the professional apartment management industry, earlier today the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a proposed rule that would allow airlines to no longer accommodate passengers who want to fly with emotional support animals (ESA’s).

The revised rules, which DOT has been working on for years, would narrow the definition of service animal to dogs that have received individualized training to work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. According to the document released earlier today, DOT’s goal is to ensure “safe and accessible” air travel. As we have seen in the apartment industry, the airlines have also watched the definition of service animal expand such that the number of animals flying around the country has significantly increased over the past few years – estimated from 481,000 in 2016 to over 750,000 in 2017.  Many of those animal are “certified” as ESA’s via medical verification letters believed to be purchased over the Internet after a less than comprehensive medical review.

Importantly, at least to me, are the following sentences in the draft DOT rule:

There have also been reports of some online entities that may, for a fee, provide individuals with pets a letter stating that the individual is a person with a mental or emotional disability and that the animal is an emotional support animal or psychiatric service animal, when in fact it is not. While the Department’s current service animal regulation permits airlines to require documentation from a licensed mental health professional for the carriage of emotional support animals, the advent of online entities that may be guaranteeing the required documentation for a fee has made it difficult for airlines to determine whether passengers traveling with animals are traveling with their pets or with legitimate emotional support animals.

The point, and I hope HUD is paying attention, is that yet another federal department (in this case the DOT) has concluded that the short, one page medical verifications we commonly see for ESA’s are not legitimate and are worth scrutinizing.

Again, apartment communities want to approve assistance animals for those disabled Americans with legitimate needs. We just want to stop the online purchase of ESA medical verifications that are bought with a credit card.  There will, I am sure, be more to come here.

Just A Thought.