Navigating the Confusion: Assistance Animals in Multifamily
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Navigating the Confusion: Assistance Animals in Multifamily Properties

Posted on July 1, 2023 by Grace Hill

Assistance Animals in Multifamily Properties

Navigating assistance animals in multifamily properties can be a confusing and daunting task. For many property owners and managers, there is a great deal of confusion surrounding the difference between service animals, assistance animals, and emotional support animals. It is important to understand the distinctions between these animals and the regulations that apply to them.

What Are Assistance Animals?

Assistance animals, also known as service animals or emotional support animals, are a type of animal that provide assistance or support to individuals with disabilities. While these terms are often used interchangeably, there are some key differences between the different types of assistance animals.

Service animals are specially trained animals that assist individuals with disabilities in completing specific tasks. For example, a service dog might assist someone with a visual impairment by guiding them through public spaces or alerting them to potential hazards. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are allowed to accompany their owners in any public space, including housing complexes.

Emotional support animals, on the other hand, provide emotional comfort and support to individuals with mental health conditions. These animals do not need any specific training, but their presence is considered to be therapeutic for their owners. Emotional support animals are covered under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which requires landlords to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

Assistance animals can also include other types of animals that are not specifically trained to provide assistance but still provide comfort or support to their owners. These animals are not recognized under the ADA or FHA but may still be allowed in certain circumstances.

Landlords and property managers need to understand the differences between these different types of assistance animals, as various compliance requirements and policies are associated with each. By staying informed and up-to-date on the laws and regulations around assistance animals, landlords can ensure they are providing fair housing for all of their tenants.

The Laws on Assistance Animals in Housing

When it comes to assistance animals in housing, there are three main laws property owners and managers need to be aware of to ensure compliance: the Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The FHA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in housing, including the use of assistance animals. Under the FHA, assistance animals are considered a reasonable accommodation that property owners and managers must provide to individuals with disabilities, regardless of any existing policies regarding pets. This means that a property owner cannot refuse to rent to someone because they have an assistance animal.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires all federally-funded housing facilities to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities, including assistance animals. This law applies to properties that receive federal assistance, such as low-income housing.

The ADA also provides protections for individuals with disabilities, but specifically for those accessing public accommodations and services. While the ADA does not specifically address assistance animals in housing, it does provide guidance on service animals in other contexts.

It’s important for property owners and managers to be familiar with these laws and ensure their policies and procedures are compliant. This includes having a clear and documented process for accommodating individuals with assistance animals and training staff on how to handle accommodation requests. Failing to comply with these laws can result in legal action and financial penalties.

Assistance Animal Documentation: What You Need To Know

One of the most common questions property owners and managers have about assistance animals relates to the required documentation. The good news is that documentation requirements are straightforward, and HUD has issued guidelines that clarify the documentation requirements.

Assistance animals are defined as animals that provide disability-related assistance or emotional support to individuals with disabilities.

And unlike service animals, assistance animals do not require specialized training or certification to qualify for protection under the law.

To establish the need for an assistance animal, individuals must provide documentation that shows they have a disability and that the animal provides disability-related assistance or emotional support. This documentation can come from a variety of sources, including a doctor, psychiatrist, or other medical professional. 

HUD has issued guidelines stating that you are entitled to documentation from a reliable third party that is able to know about the individual’s disability. When reviewing documentation, it’s important to keep in mind that individuals with disabilities have the right to privacy. As such, you cannot ask for specifics about their disability or medical condition. Instead, you can request documentation that establishes the need for an assistance animal.

Know How To Handle Accommodation Requests

As a property owner or manager, it’s essential to know how to handle accommodation requests from residents with disabilities who require assistance animals. To be considered a valid request, three things must be true: the person must have a disability, the animal must serve a function directly related to the disability, and the request must be reasonable. 

Here are some steps you can take to handle accommodation requests effectively:

  1. Ask for Documentation: Once a resident requests an accommodation, you can ask them for documentation of their disability and the need for an assistance animal. While they aren’t required to provide specific details about their condition, they should provide documentation from a healthcare professional or mental health provider to verify the disability and the need for an animal.
  2. Evaluate the Request: Review the request carefully and determine if it is reasonable. A reasonable request means that the assistance animal is necessary to enable the resident to use and enjoy the community as other residents do. You should also consider the animal’s size, breed, and potential impact on other tenants, as well as any specific requirements in the lease agreement.
  3. Respond Promptly: Under the law, property owners must respond to accommodation requests promptly. You should respond within a reasonable amount of time and let the resident know whether their request has been granted or denied. If the request is denied, you should explain why and provide alternatives if possible.
  4. Make Necessary Adjustments: Once the request is approved, make any necessary adjustments to accommodate the assistance animal. For example, you may need to provide a designated area for the animal to relieve itself, make adjustments to a pet policy or lease agreement, or make other reasonable modifications.
  5. Stay Up-to-Date on Laws and Regulations: Laws and regulations surrounding assistance animals are continuously evolving. Therefore, it is essential to stay informed about changes that could impact how you handle accommodation requests in the future.

By understanding how to handle accommodation requests for assistance animals, you can ensure you are in compliance with laws and regulations and maintain positive relationships with residents with disabilities. Remember to communicate clearly with residents, ask for necessary documentation, and evaluate requests carefully to make reasonable accommodations that are in the best interest of all parties involved.

Continue To Educate Yourself

As laws and regulations regarding assistance animals continue to evolve, owners, property managers, and residents alike need to continue educating themselves on the subject. By staying up-to-date with the latest legal developments, you can ensure that you are adhering to all regulations and avoiding potential legal troubles.

There are a variety of resources available for continued education on this topic. The Fair Housing Act website offers guidance on assistance animals, including information on reasonable accommodation and what is required for documentation. In addition, numerous webinars, seminars, and training sessions are available to help property management professionals understand the laws and regulations governing assistance animals. 

By continuing to educate yourself on assistance animals, you can become a better owner or property manager, providing your residents with the best possible service while adhering to all legal requirements. Doing so not only helps protect you legally but also helps foster a positive and supportive environment for all residents in your community. So, take the time to stay informed and up-to-date on assistance animal laws, and make sure you’re doing everything possible to ensure the well-being of your residents.

This stuff is complicated – and serious. You’ll find that The Paws-itive Management: What You Need To Know About Assistance Animals EBOOK answers many of your questions about assistance animals. But when in doubt, ask your supervisor or legal counsel.

Grace Hill’s marketing content team aims to create informative resources that help multifamily and commercial industry professionals elevate their performance. From blog posts and ebooks to infographics, checklists and webinars, the Grace Hill team has a singular focus: creating meaningful and engaging content that resonates with real estate professionals across the industry.  However, what makes Grace Hill so unique is the range of collective experience and collaborative spirit of its marketing content team. A group of talented writers with expertise in the real estate industry, overall management effectiveness, marketing strategy, and operational efficiency, the team provides new ideas to take performance to the next level. As a thought leader, Grace Hill's content team constantly pushes the envelope, experimenting with new resources and tools to keep industry professionals ahead of the curve.  Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out in the real estate industry, the content team at Grace Hill is creating resources to help you succeed. Learn more about Grace Hill on LinkedIn.

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