Currently, no organization is legally recognized for registering service or assistance animals. Any organization making that claim is misleading its audience. One of the most common accommodation requests multifamily housing providers get is for a resident to have an animal that would otherwise be restricted by a community’s rules. But in the past few years, websites have popped up that provide questionable, medical verifications for service and assistance animals. Some people are using these sites to get around no-pet policies or avoid things like breed and size restrictions.
But other people are motivated by a legitimate service need or deep emotional connection to their animals, which can make this a sensitive issue to navigate. If you receive documentation related to an accommodation request for an assistance animal that seems suspicious, it might be helpful to do a quick web search on the organization or individual that issued the document.
Two Potential Red Flags in Evaluating Documentation for Assistance Animals
1. The site offers “official” certifications, registrations or IDs for service or assistance animals. Currently there are no legally recognized organizations for registering service or assistance animals.
2. The site offers a “training certificate” as proof that the animal is an assistance animal. Under the Fair Housing Act (RHA) there is no requirement that assistance animals be trained. Documentation only needs to establish that the person has a disability and that the animal provides disability-related assistance or emotional support.
An animal’s training is not relevant when evaluating a reasonable accommodations request. Remember to research any questionable documentation for assistance animals. No matter what source the documentation is from, if you are suspicious, do not immediately deny an accommodation request. Instead, start a conversation with the resident to gather more information. As you go through the process, try not to give the impression that you are doubting the resident’s disability or need for the assistance animal. Instead, let them know that are simply doing due diligence to confirm documentation. Keep in mind that some people have been mislead by websites and organizations that sell service or assistance animal “certifications” to vulnerable people. And, most prospects and residents don’t understand the applicable laws as well as you do. You may need to educate residents as you go. Doing so with understanding and empathy will help make the process go smoothly. As always, if you have any questions about how to proceed in any situation involving accommodation requests, it is best to consult your supervisor and legal council.
Ellen Clark is the Director of Assessment at Grace Hill. Her work has spanned the entire learner lifecycle, from elementary school through professional education. She spent over 10 years working with K12 Inc.’s network of online charter schools – measuring learning, developing learning improvement plans using evidence-based strategies, and conducting learning studies. Later, at Kaplan Inc., she worked in the vocational education and job training divisions, improving online, blended and face-to-face training programs, and working directly with business leaders and trainers to improve learner outcomes and job performance. Ellen lives and works in Maryland, where she was born and raised.
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