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What Property Managers Need to Know About Assistance Animals

Doug Chasick, CPM, CAPS, has shocking news for property managers. “The assistance pet is a mythical creature,” he says in his recent, fact-packed webinar, “New HUD Guidance on Assistance Animals – What You Should Know.” Chasick, aka The Apartment Doctor, explains, “It’s either a pet, or an assistance animal.” He goes on to say most rules that apply to pets don’t apply to assistance animals.

This is an important distinction, since residents can approach property managers with requests for assistance animals that range from cats and dogs to pigs and chickens. The webinar, now available on demand, spells out the guidelines defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help residents and property managers clarify the issue.

At the heart of this guidance is the Fair Housing Act, which, says Chasick, “gives us two mandates: anyone who’s qualified can buy (or rent) the home of their choice, and they’re allowed the right to equal enjoyment of that home. That’s where accommodations and modifications come in.” To evaluate requests for accommodations and modifications, Chasick provides three essential questions to assess the need for an assistance animal: 

  1. Is the resident disabled? It’s not always clear just from observation.
  2. What do they need? (e.g., a seeing-eye dog for the visually impaired); and, 
  3. What does the animal do to help them fully enjoy their home?

Noting he’s not an attorney, he directs participants to the HUD guidelines, which include a four-page guide named “Guidance on Documenting an Individual’s Need for Assistance Animals in Housing.” This section outlines best practices for documenting an individual’s need for assistance animals in housing. He urges managers to share this content with all concerned parties.

Chasick also provides three essential words to evaluate requests for assistance animals. The first is “reliable,” as in reliable sources to verify the need for an assistance animal, such as a healthcare provider or caregiver. This can be tricky, he says, since in some cases a family member might also qualify.

The other two are “necessary” and “connection.” The HUD document provides parameters for what services are considered necessary for the resident’s full enjoyment of the home, and how the animal can assist. “If the connection between the disability and the animal is not discernible,” he says, “we’re allowed to ask for additional information.”

Chasick urges all property managers to reference the HUD guidelines whenever there’s a request to allow an assistance animal, and respond to the requestor within 10 days of receiving documentation for an accommodation. The 10 days, which is recommended by HUD, not only keeps matters from running on indefinitely, it also gives property managers ample opportunity to respond.

Importantly, he does note that the request can come after an animal is found in the home. Ultimately, if no paperwork comes, “We don’t have to grant the request.”

The HUD documentation also explains internet scammers and how, given the growth of online counseling sites, not all internet documentation can be dismissed off-hand. This, he says, is why each case must be treated individually with care and professionalism.

At the end of the day, the process of determining the need for an assistance animal is not about denial. It is about “ensuring people have equal opportunity, access and enjoyment,” he says. “That is what Fair Housing is all about.”

See IREM’s FAQ on Assistance Animals.

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