“I didn’t know” is not an acceptable defense if you face a discrimination charge, so the Grace Hill training tip of the week focuses on repeating advice that assistance animals are not pets when it comes to leasing your rentals.
By Ellen Clark
The typical story goes like this, where a prospective renter provides documentation from her doctor showing she needs an assistance animal because of her disability and she is told by a leasing agent that the owner does not allow pets.
One of the most common accommodation requests is to have an animal that would otherwise be restricted by a community’s rules.
In these cases, it is important to understand that service and assistance animals are not pets. Rather, they provide an important service to people with disabilities. You must know how to handle these accommodation requests in compliance with the law.
So in the example above, HUD recently announced a conciliation agreement between two Nevada real estate companies and a prospective resident to resolve a claim that the companies denied the prospective resident’s request to have an assistance animal live with her in her apartment home. Read the agreement here.
After the prospective tenant was told the owner did not allow pets because hardwood floors had recently been installed, at that point, the prospective resident did not continue trying to lease the apartment.
Apartments must pay $6,000 under the agreement involving assistance animal
Under the agreement, the two companies must pay the prospective resident $6,000, take fair housing training and adopt policies that handle reasonable accommodation requests on a timely way and maintain records related to the accommodation requests.
Remember, to remove barriers that people with disabilities often face when searching for and living in rental homes, it may be necessary to make changes to community rules, policies, procedures, or services.
These kinds of changes are called reasonable accommodations. If the requests are reasonable and would not cause undue hardship to your community’s business operations, fair housing laws require you to make accommodations for people with disabilities.
Here are some important points to remember about assistance animals
- Stay up to date on the guidelines for reviewing assistance animal accommodation requests
Under the FHA and Section 504, individuals with a disability may be entitled to an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation in housing that otherwise restricts or prohibits animals. Assistance animals include service, companion, and emotional support animals. Assistance animals may be any type of animal, and no training is required.
- There are strict guidelines for what you may ask a person requesting a reasonable accommodation. Not following them puts you at risk of committing disability discrimination.
- Never ask for specifics about a person’s disability. All that’s required is reliable documentation of a disability and that the animal provides disability-related assistance or emotional support.
- If you doubt the credibility of documentation related to an accommodation request, you can ask for more information. Be sure to proceed carefully and consult your legal counsel.
If you have doubts about how to proceed with any request related to assistance animals, reach out to your supervisor or legal counsel for help. Not doing so may cost you and your company dearly.