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It’s a Zoo Out There

NAA Toolkit on Emotional Support Animals

Did you know that a resident is entitled to ask for a reasonable accommodation request for any animal? While the most common requests involve dogs and cats, roosters, ferrets and boa constrictors are a few real-life examples in a growing list of animals that are claimed to provide emotional support.

Per U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines, a disabled resident should be given the opportunity to request any animal that reasonably affords such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy their dwelling. Owners are required to engage the resident in an interactive process in which the housing provider and the requester discuss the requester's disability-related need for the accommodation and possible alternatives.

In years past, it seemed to be the status quo for apartment housing providers to adopt bright-line rules. These rules allowed for predictability in outcomes and restricted discretion among on-site staff to minimize the risk of fair housing discrimination complaints. While this used to be the case, now managers are expected to make decisions on a case-by-case basis depending on a resident’s unique set of needs and circumstances in accordance with the mandated interactive process.

As apartment owners and managers continue to see a significant increase in reasonable accommodation requests for emotional support animals, there is an increased concern of possible abuse. To guard against this, NAA felt it was important to provide members with resources giving practical guidance on this emerging issue.

NAA organized a working group of members, affiliated association staff and attorneys specializing in fair housing to collaborate on resources to help members navigate this complicated issue. Staff compiled these resources into the NAA Toolkit on Emotional Support Animals (ESA) (member log-in required).

The toolkit contains resources that give the reader an overview of the basics and provides guidance on the common scenarios above. It also contains sample reasonable accommodation and modification policies and sample documentation forms for residents, including instructions provided by Kirk A. Cullimore, Esq., Past President of the Utah Apartment Association (UAA) and current UAA board member.

In an effort to continue outreach and education, NAA is hosting a webinar on this issue on Thursday, October 13 at 3 p.m. ET. NAA has enlisted the expertise of Katie Wrenn, Regional Training and Marketing Director at Milestone Management, to share the member perspective and her experiences in dealing with reasonable accommodation requests day-to-day. In addition to Ms. Wrenn’s expertise, Kirk Cullimore will discuss the forms that he was instrumental in getting approved by HUD and share lessons learned from his experience in litigating these cases throughout the investigative process.

It really has become a zoo out there. Remember, NAA works for you and has a breadth of resources available on this issue. The Emotional Support Animals webinar will take place on Thursday, October 13 and NAA members can register here.  If you have questions, please contact Nicole Upano, NAA's Manager of Government Affairs.

Test Your Fair Housing Knowledge:

  • Do you know the differences among these terms: pet, service animal, emotional support animal, companion animal, therapy animal?
  • If a resident requests an accommodation for an emotional support animal, can I require a doctor’s note?
  • What do I do if the resident requests multiple animals?
  • Can I deny a resident’s request for a pit bull or a pot belly pig?
  • Can I require the resident to get liability insurance for his or her animal?
  • What do I do if Resident A asks why Resident B has a dog living in a building that does not allow pets?

Look for the answers to these questions in the October issue of units magazine.

This blog is the first installment in a new periodic series entitled "A Balancing Act,"which will explore issues and hot topics in fair housing. Make sure to subscribe so you don't miss future installments.