Spurred on in part by complaints about abuses from housing providers, HUD recently issued new guidance intended to clarify the Fair Housing rules regarding assistance animals in housing. Nearly 60% of the Fair Housing complaints filed each year involve denial of reasonable accommodation requests by persons with disabilities.  On January 28, 2020 HUD’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Office released FHEO Notice 2020-01 providing the updated guidance.

In issuing the new guidance HUD Secretary Ben Carson sought to strike a balance between the legitimate needs of persons with disabilities and the concerns of housing providers. “Countless Americans rely on assistance animals to fill a void, providing individuals with disabilities with the means to have a home that supports their quality of life,” stated Secretary Ben Carson. “In my many discussions with housing providers and residents impacted by the need for assistance, I recognized the necessity for further clarity regarding support animals to provide peace of mind to individuals with disabilities while also taking in account the concerns of housing providers. Today’s announcement responds to the ambiguity surrounding proper documentation for assistance animals with clarity and compassion to provide an equal opportunity for a person living with a disability to use and enjoy their home.”

HUD General Counsel Paul Compton added, “With the Assistance Animals Notice, both housing providers and individuals with disabilities will better understand their rights and obligations under the Fair Housing Act regarding assistance animals, particularly emotional support animals. For housing providers, this is a tool that can be used to help them lawfully navigate various sets of sometimes complex circumstances to ensure that reasonable accommodations are provided where required so that persons with a disability-related need for an assistance animal have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing. The guidance will help ensure that these important legal rights are asserted only in appropriate circumstances.”

To assist housing providers in implementing the new guidance, NCHM’s Senior Vice President of Compliance Programs, Lisa Vercauteren, has prepared a special webinar now open to registrations through the NCHM website at: https://www.nchm.org/product/breaking-news-new-hud-guidance-on-assistance-animals/

In the webinar Lisa addresses such topics as:

  • The differences between pets, assistance animals and service animals
  • How to handle the request for a “unique animal”
  • Can a resident request multiple assistance animals?
  • When an assistance animal request can be denied
  • When to verify the need for an assistance or service animal
  • Latest guidance on assistance animal verification, including verifications obtained through an internet site
  • Best practices for addressing requests for assistance animals

NCHM is committed to helping housing providers comply with the new HUD guidance as well as all other aspects of Fair Housing law. “The underlying goals of Fair Housing are critically important and every housing professional I’ve ever met in my career supports those goals,” stated Vercauteren. “But as they say, ‘the devil is in the detail’ and our objectives at NCHM is to make sure that the goals of Fair Housing are met while helping housing providers avoid making unintended mistakes in the process.”

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