Navigating New HUD Assistance Animals Guidelines

March 9, 2020 | By: VF Law

On January 28, 2020 the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) issued new guidelines regarding “certain obligations of housing providers under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) with respect to [assistance] animals that individuals with disabilities may request as reasonable accommodations.” A copy of the new guidelines may be found at https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/PA/documents/HUDAsstAnimalNC1-28-2020.pdf 

The guidelines lay out the best practices for housing providers when receiving a request from a resident for a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal. HUD released the new guidelines to help housing providers navigate the dangerous waters of determining whether to grant reasonable accommodations to residents with assistance animals. 

These new guidelines are important because according to HUD statistics, the denial of reasonable accommodation requests comprise close to sixty percent (60%) of all fair housing complaints and of those, complaints involving assistance animals are one of the most common types of complaints HUD receives. Moreover, most formal charges levied by HUD against a housing provider after commencing a full investigation are for the wrongful denial of a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal. These statistics should be of great concern for all housing providers and be an impetus to ensure their practices for determining whether to grant a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal are in compliance with the law. 

The new guidelines lay out a step-by-step process for housing providers to follow when determining whether to grant a reasonable accommodation to a resident for an assistance animal. However, even with the attempt at clarity, the process is still wrought with pitfalls for housing providers and it is highly recommended they seek professional legal advice to ensure they are in compliance with all laws and regulations they may be subject to, including but not limited to “several civil rights laws, including but not limited to the FHA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

As part of its step-by-step guide to assist housing providers in determining whether to grant a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal, HUD clarifies the definition for service and support animals. HUD’s new guidelines also provide guidance to help providers distinguish between a person with a non-obvious disability who has a legitimate need for an assistance animal and a person with a disability who simply wants to have a pet or avoid the costs associated with having a pet.  Guidance is also provided for when a housing provider is presented with internet derived documentation regarding a resident’s need for an assistance animal. This is extremely important because the internet contains a vast array of websites that charge a fee to provide a user with a certificate declaring their need for an assistance animal. Conversing with legal counsel to set up internal guidelines in line with HUD’s guidelines will help ensure compliance by the housing provider.

Because requests for reasonable accommodations for assistance animals have become so prevalent it is in a housing provider’s best interest to confer with legal counsel to make certain that the practices in place will not result in a fair housing complaint or even worse, a formal charge by HUD. Do not let the complexity of compliance trip up your association.  Make an appointment with the attorneys at VF Law and let them help ensure your association or condominium does not find itself in assistance animal hot water.