I do my level best to be evenhanded when I review emotional support animal (ESA) medical verification letters when I know they have been purchased over the internet after a short self-diagnosis questionnaire and perhaps use of an online assessment tool. There has likely been no legitimate, therapeutic relationship between the patient (who must have a recognized disability) and the individual providing the medical verification. As written here (and elsewhere), anyone can go online and buy what look like a formal letter and/or “certificate” or “registration” from various internet-based providers seeking to make a buck (or more than a buck). Remember, there is no official ESA registration site or certificate.
While the professional apartment management industry has been doing our best to determine which verifications are legitimate and which are not, our efforts are limited in that the law only permits us to ask certain questions. And, in truth, we have no interest in medical records or other confidential health care information between a therapist and a patient.
Although it was believed the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) had some new ESA guidance ready last fall, it was never published. And we continue to wait to see what, if anything, is released by HUD or the Department of Justice.
In the interim, a number of states (including at least New York, Virginia, Utah, Texas, North Carolina, New Mexico, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Nevada, Michigan, Maine, and Colorado) have passed various laws or adopted regulations prohibiting the misrepresentation of service animals. The goal, of course, is to discourage those who might otherwise attempt to submit a reasonable accommodation request for an assistance animal that is verified by someone who sells them online.
While I have not seen a list of individuals charged under these laws, the fact that they are now on the books and available for use is a helpful sign as a growing number of state legislatures take fraudulent medical verifications seriously. I will continue to update this list.
Just A Thought.