June 13, 2019
“Service animals” conjure up the image of a well-behaved, well-trained dog, leading a visually-impaired person through a crowded store, or across a busy street. In recent years, there has been an increase in the category of “emotional support” animals (ESAs); in other words, animals that offer companionship and help to individuals undergoing emotional and mental health issues.
Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, housing providers are required to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities (emotional, physical or both) to keep an assistant animal in their homes. And, when those ESAs consist of dogs and cats, many landlords are willing to work with the tenants in question, especially if said tenants provide letters from their mental health professionals, detailing the importance of such animals.
However, the National Apartment Association recently posted an article from the “Philadelphia Inquirer” concerning a tenant and his ESA — an alligator. The NAA wasn’t necessarily dissing Wally the support alligator. The issue, however, is that “a lack of clarity in Federal Fair Housing laws has created loopholes for bad actors to abuse the system,” the NAA noted. Additionally, fraudulent accommodation requests for ESAs are a good way for rental tenants to dodge pet fees or animal restrictions in complexes. Adding to the problem, is that online websites are more than happy to “certify” any animal as an ESA, for a nominal fee.
Finally, current federal laws and agencies have been tardy in providing rental housing providers compliance guidelines, the NAA said. If owners and operators misinterpret the concept of “reasonable accommodations,” they could end up with a housing discrimination complaint on their hands.
The solution? The NAA pointed out that state-level officials “have become impatient, waiting for the federal government to act,” and have implemented misrepresentation laws intended to curb ESA illegitimate reasonable accommodation requests. However, “we need action by the federal government to minimize abuse and restore accountability to help owners and operators manage those requests,” the NAA said. The association added that, implementing reforms at the federal level will lead to a better scenario for residents who benefit from ESAs, and the apartment owners that house them.
The Connect Apartments Conference will take place June 20, 2019 in Los Angeles. For more information, or to register, click here.
For comments, questions or concerns, please contact Amy Sorter