HUD Issues Memo Regarding Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities

HUD recently issued FHEO Notice FHE0-2013-01, Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs.  The memo expressly states that an assistance animal is not a pet, and therefore, rules adopted by associations with pet prohibitions or restrictions may not apply.  Although dogs are primarily assistance animals, other animals may qualify as an assistance animal.

Once a housing provider receives a request for reasonable accommodation to have an assistance animal, two questions must be answered:

(1)  Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability — i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?

(2)  Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?

If the answer to both questions is yes, the housing provider must permit the assistance animal in all areas of the premises without restriction, including the payment of any fee (pet deposit).  Exceptions apply if allowing the animal would cause undue financial and administrative burden, or fundamentally alter the nature of the housing provider’s services.   If the specific animal in question is a health and safety threat to others, or would cause substantial damage to the property of others that cannot be reduced by another accommodation, the request may be denied.  This means the specific animal itself, not the breed of the animal, or its size or weight.

The housing provider is restricted as to what information can be requested from the person making the request.  If the disability, or disability-related need for an assistance animal is readily apparent or known to the provider, it may not ask the person for documentation.  The memo gives the example of a blind person needing a guide dog as a disability and a disability-related need that is readily apparent.  If the disability-related need is not apparent, then the provider may request documentation from a physician or other mental health professional to show the assistance animal provides emotional support that alleviates an identified symptom of an existing disability.

In addition to HUD’s explanation of housing provider requirements under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to provide reasonable accommodations regarding assistance animals, the memo also explains the revised definition of service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act and obligations when multiple nondiscrimination laws apply. Read the memo in its entirety here:

http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=servanimals_ntcfheo2013-01.pdf

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