HUD Issues New Guidance on Assistance Animals

HUD recently announced new guidance to clarify how housing providers can comply with the Fair Housing Act when assessing a person’s request to have an animal in housing to provide assistance because of a disability.

Federal fair housing law prohibits housing discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Among other things, the law requires housing providers to permit a change or exception to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary to provide people with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their home. In most circumstances, a refusal to make such a change or exception, known as a reasonable accommodation, is unlawful.

A common reasonable accommodation is an exception to a no-pet policy. A person with a disability may require the assistance of an animal that does work, performs tasks, or provides therapeutic emotional support because of the disability. Housing providers may confirm, if it isn’t apparent, whether the requested accommodation is needed because of a disability that affects a major life activity and is a reasonable request.

HUD says its new assistance animal guidance will help housing providers in this process by offering a step-by-step set of best practices for complying with the law when assessing accommodation requests involving animals and the information that a person may need to provide about his or her disability-related need for the requested accommodation, including supporting information from a health care professional.

The new guidance also provides information on the types of animals that typically may be appropriate and best practices for when the requested animal is one that isn’t traditionally kept in the home. It also provides information for both housing providers and persons with disabilities regarding the reliability of documentation of a disability or disability-related need for an animal that’s obtained from third parties, including Internet-based services offering animal certifications or registrations for purchase.

“Countless Americans rely on assistance animals to fill a void, providing individuals with disabilities with the means to have a home that supports their quality of life,” Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement. “In my many discussions with housing providers and residents impacted by the need for assistance, I recognized the necessity for further clarity regarding support animals to provide peace of mind to individuals with disabilities while also taking in account the concerns of housing providers. Today’s announcement responds to the ambiguity surrounding proper documentation for assistance animals with clarity and compassion to provide an equal opportunity for a person living with a disability to use and enjoy their home.”

Because they apply to more types of facilities than housing, the laws applicable to public accommodations and government-funded facilities, including Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, while sometimes overlapping with the Fair Housing Act, have different, and sometimes narrower, requirements. Similarly, public transportation and common carriers, such as airlines, are also subject to different rules. The Assistance Animal Notice doesn’t address those circumstances.

HUD’s notice is available here.