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 Feature Story
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need to know from a third-party verifier or information source about an individual’s need for the animal. It focuses on health care professionals, but providers should view this guidance in the context that the HUD / U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Joint Statement, at pages 13-14, identifies a variety of sources that may provide credible and adequate information. The Statement reminds housing providers they may not require a health care professional or other third party to use a specific form, to provide notarized statements, to make statements under penalty of perjury, or to provide an individual’s diagnosis or other details about the nature or severity of a person’s physical or mental impairments.
The 2020 guidance cautions that information relating to a person’s disability and health conditions must be kept confidential and cannot be shared with other persons unless the information is needed for evaluating whether to grant or deny a reasonable accommodation request or unless disclosure is required by law. It recommends that information from third parties be based on their personal knowledge of the requestor – e.g., knowledge used to diagnose, advise, counsel, treat, or provide health care or other disability-related services. Ideally that third party will include detail such as whether there is a professional relationship involving the provision of health care or disability-related services, the date of the last interaction with the person, whether the person has a physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity, what type of animal the person is requesting to be approved, and how that animal benefits the person. While this and other information might be the ideal, housing providers should not insist on a specific check list of items before considering or granting a request for an animal. If basic, credible information has been provided to allow a determination that the animal is needed, the request should be approved. If such information is arguably lacking then the provider should use the interactive process to see if that information can be made available.
One important statement in the 2020 guidance, which is also found in the California regulations, addresses documentation from the Internet. It states that in
“HUD’s experience, such documentation from the Internet is not, by itself, sufficient to reliably establish that an individual has a non-observable disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal.” This information typically comes from web sites that sell so-called certificates, registrations, and licensing documents for assistance animals to anyone who answers certain questions or participates in a short interview and pays a fee. However, the guidance goes on to provide a reminder that by contrast to those web sites, many legitimate, licensed health care professionals deliver services remotely, including over the Internet. Therefore, information from an online provider should not be automatically rejected, but an interactive process to either determine the information’s credibility or to augment such information should first be pursued. The California regulations go further by including the statement that a “certification from an online service that does not include an individualized assessment [as defined] from a medical professional is presumptively considered not to be information from a reliable third party.” However, the regulations also caution that a person presenting such a certification should be given an opportunity to provide additional information that would meet the verification requirements the regulations set out before a request for reasonable accommodation is denied.
Space here does not allow for complete detail on the California regulations on assistance animals, which runs to three pages. However, among others, a few important standards they set include that: (i) no breed, size, or weight limitations may be applied to an assistance animal; (ii) animal vests, identification cards, or certificates are not in and of themselves documentation of either disability or (iii) the need for a reasonable accommodation; and an individual may have more than one assistance animal. For the last, each animal must be individually determined to meet the requirements. Also, when an individual already has a support animal and requests an additional support animal, the person considering that request may consider whether the cumulative impact of multiple animals in the same dwelling unit constitutes an undue burden.
 David Levy is the Programs Specialist with the Fair Housing Council of Orange County (FHCOC) and has over 27 years’ experience in the areas of fair housing, landlord-tenant law and housing affordability. In addition to his work with FHCOC, he serves on the boards of the Kennedy Commission, the Affordable Housing Clearinghouse, and the Clearinghouse Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), all located in Orange County, California.
This article is based on work supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under FHIP Grant No. FEOI1900445. Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of HUD. The complete first-phase California fair housing regulations can be viewed at the following link: https://tinyurl.com/2020FHregs.
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