Assistance Animals: What Multifamily Operators Should Know
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Assistance Animals: 4 Things Every Multifamily Operator Should Know

Posted on April 3, 2023 by Amelia Woolard

Blog Assistance Animals: What Every Multifamily Operator Should Know Fair Housing Month

April is Fair Housing Month, prompting reflection on reasonable accommodations for multifamily residents, such as providing a designated accessible parking space or permitting an assistance animal request..

Assistance animals are specially trained to assist people with disabilities with mobility, navigation, hearing, emotional support, and medical conditions. 

Unlike pets, which are kept for companionship, assistance animals have legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and are allowed to accompany their owners in public places and on transportation. In addition, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) gives disabled residents the right to request reasonable accommodations for both service and support animals.

To learn more about service animals’ role in multifamily housing and how to accommodate them, we spoke to Victoria Cowart, Director of Education and Outreach at PetScreening, a virtual screening platform that standardizes risk assessment for pets and processes assistant animal accommodations. 

Here are four things Cowart believes every multifamily operator should know about assistance animals: 

1. Handling assistance animals requires the utmost confidentiality.

Multifamily teams must maintain strict confidentiality regarding information about a person’s disability and their service animal, as it is considered private medical information. Violating this confidentiality is a breach of the ADA and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Cowart’s advice is to never divulge any information about an assistance animal arrangement to other residents. When in doubt, counsel with an attorney or a platform designed to handle these accommodations. 

2. You may encounter confusion from residents without assistance animals.

Assistance animal accommodations are confidential, and residents may be frustrated if they don’t understand why someone is allowed to have an animal not covered by community pet policies.  

Cowart reminds us that divulging any information about a service animal is inappropriate. In response, it’s best to provide a brief statement. Below is an example:

“I appreciate you communicating your concerns with me. However, not every concern can be answered. If you think there is a violation within the community, I will look into it and address it, if appropriate.”  

3. Using a screening partner can demystify assistance animals for you.

Housing portfolios often lack an airtight process for handling assistance animal accommodations, leaving them vulnerable to discrimination suits and fraudulent requests. A screening partner like PetScreening helps multifamily operators navigate all things pets and assistance animals. 

PetScreening offers free screening services for assistance animals, verifying digital profiles and documents for compliance. PetScreening ensures confidentiality, providing management access to HIPAA-level documentation. PetScreening also offers education through “You Bet Your Assets! What You Need To Know About Emotional Support Animals and More!”, which includes a workshop, workbook, and live Q&A session.

4. Accommodating assistance animals makes a difference in residents’ lives.

Accommodating assistance animals makes a huge difference in the lives of residents with disabilities and is one of the best ways to help people with disabilities live comfortably and independently. 

 “We have the ability as an industry to help our residents enjoy an enhanced ability to function and, by extension, an enhanced quality of life,” Cowart says. 

 This month, take time to make housing more equitable for everyone by revisiting assistance animal policies and ensuring their compliance with the Fair Housing Act. 

Request a demo from Grace Hill to learn more about how we can assist with compliance and enhance your property’s performance.

 

Amelia is an experienced content developer with a focus on multifamily housing insights. Drawing from her experience in digital marketing and account management, Amelia produces written copy that informs and engages the B2B industry. Amelia is an accomplished content marketer and copywriter specializing in multifamily and property technology. Her expertise spans topics such as automation, artificial intelligence, sustainability, and ESG. She also writes about issues relevant to modern marketing, including branding and personalization. Drawing from her seven years of experience in digital marketing and account management, Amelia produces written content that informs and engages the multifamily and CRE industries. When she isn't writing, Amelia is probably thrifting, cooking, or petting her cat, Faulkner. Learn more about Amelia Woolward’s background and experience on her LinkedIn page.

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