Emotional Support Animals
Reasonable accommodation requests for assistance animals—including emotional support animals—cause concern for apartment owners and operators. They affect an owner’s ability to assess pet deposits and fees and to apply rules and policies to a resident’s animal. Additionally, they expose owners to possible fair housing complaints.
On January 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released new guidance to clarify the responsibilities of both rental housing providers and renters concerning reasonable accommodation requests for emotional support animals (ESAs) in housing. NAA staff has reviewed the guidance and is working with industry experts to update NAA’s ESA products accordingly, including NAA’s ESA Toolkit. In light of the revised guidance, you are strongly advised to consult your legal counsel before taking any action regarding emotional support animal requests.
As an Owner or Operator, How Does this Affect My Business?
According to the Fair Housing Act, apartment owners and operators are required to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space. The most requested accommodation is for a rental housing provider to allow an assistance animal (defined as either a service animal or an emotional support animal) that would normally be prohibited, to reside with the resident. The request can come in many forms, such as an exception to community rules that prohibit animals in a no-pets building, prohibit certain aggressive breeds on the property or require the tenant to pay additional fees or deposits for a pet.
Similar to the airline industry, a lack of clarity in the law governing reasonable accommodation requests in housing has created a loophole for bad actors to abuse the system, creating a cottage industry of online outlets that produce the verification required by law for the right price. The law also does not give owners and operators clear guidance on compliance, giving them pause because if they make the wrong decision on a request, it could result in a housing discrimination complaint and having to pay significant monetary damages to the resident.