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Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! 2nd Edition of the ESA Toolkit Now Available

ESA Toolkit

What do you say to a resident who requests an emotional support animal rattlesnake? Or in the more common scenario, your maintenance technician enters a resident’s unit to perform repairs and finds a pit bull living there. It seems the resident conveniently forgot to report the pet to staff at the time of move-in. Then when you send the resident a letter informing him of the community’s pet policy prohibiting aggressive breeds, the resident produces a form letter from an internet site claiming the animal is an emotional support animal. Now what do you do?

 If this has happened to you, you are not alone. Under federal law, an owner must accept a reasonable accommodation request for an assistance animal (also known as a service animal or an emotional support animal) if the resident has a disability and a disability-related need for the animal. The accommodation affords the disabled person equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling unit. It’s no different than a request for grab bars or a wheelchair ramp. A resident could not properly use or enjoy the unit without the animal.

To address these scenarios, remember the law applies to reasonable accommodations so in your approval process, you may consider whether an accommodation for a poisonous snake would be reasonable. You should note that policies including breed, size and weight limitations may not be applied to assistance animals. However, the request may be denied if the specific assistance animal in question poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation.

 This is a complicated issue. It makes owners and managers hesitant to say no to a request because it could lead to a fair housing discrimination complaint and substantial legal costs. To help members navigate this issue, NAA developed the NAA Toolkit, Emotional Support Animals: A Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation Requests in 2016.
The toolkit includes:

  • The NAA/NMHC Fact Sheet on Emotional Support Animals, which provides overall background on this issue. It informs members on what NAA is doing to address their concerns;
  • Relevant federal guidance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Justice;
  • Answers to frequently asked questions regarding reasonable accommodation requests for assistance animals;
  • Scripts that owners may use in training their leasing staffs to ensure proper communication with residents on this issue;
  • An introduction to sample policies and forms provided by Kirk A. Cullimore, Esq. of the Law Office of Kirk A. Cullimore;
  • Sample reasonable accommodation and modification policies; and
  • Sample documentation forms for residents, including instructions.

For 2017, two new additions have been added to the toolkit: an addendum to the Q&A section and a sample assistance animal reasonable accommodation policy. The newly released, second edition of the toolkit is available here (member log-in required).

Owners agree that the law helps disabled persons seek relief, whether that is a child needing a service animal to alert her to an impending seizure or a veteran with PTSD who requires the comfort of an emotional support animal. However, the current law also allows for abuse. Owners remain frustrated as more residents are discovering how easy it is to avoid pet rent and fees by obtaining a doctor’s note for a fee from the internet. While NAA works to resolve these issues with HUD, the second edition of the toolkit should help owners and managers properly train and educate their staffs.

Additionally, NAA is offering a session focusing on this issue at the 2017 NAA Education Conference & Exposition in Atlanta, Ga.  The session is scheduled to take place on Friday, June 23, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and features Katie Wrenn, Regional Training and Marketing Director at Milestone Management and Past President of the First Coast Apartment Association, and Kirk A. Cullimore, Esq., owner of the Law Offices of Kirk A. Cullimore and Past President of the Utah Apartment Association. Join us as our experts provide guidance on the basics of the law and how to utilize the resources in the NAA member toolkit. Register now!

For more information, contact Nicole Upano.