Phil Querin Q&A: Assistance Animals Vs. Comfort Animals

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Phil Querin

Question.I have a question about the Pet form. The term “assistance”  animal is used throughout. We are  in a disagreement with HUD over a comfort animal versus a “service” animal.  (one state document does use the term assistance and classes that as service in a footnote)  


Our defense is that the terms are very specific in the laws, or agency guidelines, both state and federal.   A landlord is specifically released from any responsibility to accept any animal that is not certified as “service.” HUD says they are not bound by another agency’s rules. Isn’t it important for our forms to be specific by using the term “service?”.


Answer.  When you say “our defense” I’m hoping you are referring to yourself andyour attorney.  While there may be certain “disagreements” with HUD that can be handled directly by a housing provider, most such cases require the assistance of good counsel. If you have not yet done so, please reconsider.


My answer below is for general purposes and should not be construed as legal advice in dealing with your specific case.


First, HUD says there are twotypes of assistance animals: 


(1) serviceanimals, and 

(2) other trained oruntrained animals that do work, perform tasks, provide assistance, and/or provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities. This category HUD refers to as “support animals”.


Second, to your point that landlords may reject a requested accommodation for a non-service (i.e. non-certified” animal), I must respectfully disagree.  The term “assistance animal” includes both, and they are protected under the Fair Housing Act. MHCO’s Form 21A applies to both trained and untrained animals.


In January, 2020, HUD issued new guidance in FHEO Notice FHEO-2020-01 (“Notice”), here.  It addresses the obligations ofhousing providers under the Fair Housing Act with respect to animals for which persons with disabilities may request areasonable accommodation. The Notice has two purposes:


The first, “Assessing Person’s Requestto Have an Animal as Reasonable Accommodation Underthe Fair Housing Act,” recommends set of best practices for complying with the FHA when assessing accommodation requests involving animals to assist housing providersand help them avoid violations of the FHA. 


The second section to this notice, “Guidance on Documenting an Individual’s Need for Assistance Animals in Housing,” provides guidance on information that an individual seeking reasonable accommodation for an assistanceanimal may need to provide to housing provider about his or her disability-related need for the requested accommodation, including supporting information from health careprofessional.


I suggest that you review the Notice and related information in the above link.


Lastly, it is correct that there are other applicable laws – not just those promulgated by HUD: Specifically, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


For these reasons, I recommend that you consult with your legal counsel in this dispute.

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