HUD to FTC: Investigate Websites Selling Assistance Animal Documentation

HUD Secretary Ben Carson recently called for an investigation into certain websites selling assistance animal documentation. In a letter to Chairman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Joseph J. Simmons and Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection Andrew Smith, Carson asked the FTC to investigate these websites for compliance with federal laws that protect consumers from unfair and deceptive acts or practices.

Federal fair housing law requires housing providers to grant reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities that affect major life activities when it may be necessary for such individuals to have equal opportunity to enjoy and use a dwelling. One type of reasonable accommodation is an exception to a housing provider’s rules regarding animals to permit individuals with disabilities to keep assistance animals that do work, perform tasks, or assist individuals with disabilities. Documentation, such as a note from a healthcare professional, is helpful and appropriate when a disability is not obvious and not already known.

“These certificates are not an acceptable substitute for authentic documentation provided by medical professionals when appropriate,” Carson said in a statement. “These websites that sell assistance animal certificates are often also misleading by implying that they are affiliated with the federal government. Nothing could be further from the truth. Their goal is to convince individuals with disabilities that they need to spend hundreds of dollars on worthless documentation to keep their assistance animal in their homes.”

HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Anna Maria Farías, explained, “Websites that sell verification for assistance animals take advantage of persons with disabilities who need a reasonable accommodation to keep their assistance animal in housing. This request for FTC action reflects HUD’s ongoing commitment to protecting the housing rights of persons with disabilities.”

“The Fair Housing Act provides for the use of assistance animals by individuals with disabilities. Under the law, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity or bodily function,” added HUD’s General Counsel Paul Compton. “These websites are using questionable business practices that exploit consumers, prejudice the legal rights of individuals with disabilities, dupe landlords, and generally interfere with good faith efforts to comply with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.”

In the letter, HUD offered to provide the FTC with examples of websites that sell this type of assistance animal documentation, including at least one website that contains the seal of HUD without authorization.