Saturday, August 3, 2013

Emotional Support Animals – A Snapshot of What You Should Know

“Emotional support animals” also sometimes called “service animals” is a topic that has received quite a bit of attention lately. Assistance animals are not pets but rather, animals that work, provide assistance, or provide emotional support to individuals and alleviate the symptoms of his/her disability. Therefore, housing providers should consider two questions after receiving a request for an emotional support animal: 1. Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability (i.e. a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities? and 2. Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability? If the answers to questions 1 and 2 are yes, the housing provider is required to modify or provide an exception to the “no pets” rule. Further, a housing provider should not deny a request for a service animal if it is unsure if the person has a disability. Instead, if the disability is not readily apparent or known to the housing provider, the housing providers may ask the applicant to submit reliable documentation of their disability and the related need for an assistance animal, including documentation from a treating mental health professional. However, if the disability is readily known or apparent, the housing provider should not ask the individual for documentation of their disability (i.e. persons who are blind requesting an accommodation for their guide dog). In sum, the above is just a brief overview of what you should know about emotional support/service animal requests. In fact, certain housing providers will be subject to both the service animal requirements under the ADA and the Fair Housing Act. There are also other complexities associated with emotional support animals, including if and when a housing provider can deny such a request and what restrictions, if any, a housing provider can apply. If in doubt, you can refer to the memorandum of interest published on April 25, 2013 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which serves as a guide for housing providers and individuals.