Must You Recognize Documents Certifying Assistance Animals?

Must You Recognize Documents Certifying Assistance Animals?

Q: Our association has a no-pets policy. We think that a member is trying to pass off his pet as an assistance animal. He’s provided us with paperwork to document his claim, but it appears to be something he’s gotten online, not from his own healthcare provider. What should we do?

A: The problem of so-called “fake” service and assistance animals has been gathering attention. There have been news reports of people bringing all sorts of animals with them in public, insisting that they’re service animals under the ADA. Many have paperwork and assorted paraphernalia from online sources purporting to verify that they have a disability and their animal qualifies as a service or assistance animal. Lawmakers are taking notice, leading many states, most recently in Florida, to make it a criminal offense to fraudulently represent that a person has the right to be accompanied by a service animal. Many in the multifamily housing industry hope these laws will gain traction to prevent abuse under fair housing law.

In the meantime, it’s important to take all requests for assistance animals seriously and comply with HUD guidelines—regardless of your suspicions about the merits of the claim. If the member doesn’t have an apparent disability, you may ask for reliable disability-related information that’s necessary to verify that he has a disability that qualifies under the Fair Housing Act—that is, a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities—and has a disability-related need for the animal. And, unless it’s obvious, you may ask for documentation that he has a disability-related need for an assistance animal—that is, whether the animal performs work or does tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability.

For more information on how to handle requests for assistance animals, see our Summer 2016 Special Issue, available to subscribers here