There’s an elephant in the room, and it’s wearing a bedazzled service animal vest.
Here comes the disclaimer:
The fact that some people abuse this law does not mean you should deny a request for reasonable accommodation.
A wise civil rights defense attorney (who represents landlords and property managers) once said that the safest response to any reasonable accommodation request is the following:
“We consider all requests for reasonable accommodation.”
Considering a request is neither granting nor denying it; it simply means what it says, that you (and preferably your own fair housing or civil rights defense attorney) will evaluate the request in a timely fashion before making a determination. A hasty or poorly informed decision can be costly.
Denying an accommodation can also be devastating to the person who really needs it.
For someone with a hearing or visual impairment, a trained service animal can mean the difference between life and death or independence and isolation. For someone with depression, anxiety or PTSD, an emotional support animal can offer a reason to get out of bed or the ability to face the world. There is an important distinction between these terms, but either can be part of a legitimate reasonable accommodation request.
Learn more about them below:
Real-life scenario. Several years ago, an Idaho landlord called a local organization to ask for a definition of a service animal after a prospective tenant requested an accommodation. He was referred to the ADA definition, which states that the animal is ‘specifically trained to perform a task for the person with a disability.’ He decided that, in his opinion, the animal hadn’t received any special training, and subsequently denied the request.
What he didn’t understand was that the request was for a support animal; because he failed to make a distinction, he asked for and received a definition for a service animal. Although the definitions for emotional support animals were on the same page, he limited his focus to service animals.
And yes, he received a fair housing complaint.
Fraud in this area makes life difficult for everyone, including landlords and property managers, retailers, restaurants and transportation providers. Some people play fast and loose with the law, because abusers know that in most cases they will go unchallenged, and it’s a simple matter to find a ‘third-party professional’ to sign a letter stating the need to take a beloved pet anywhere and everywhere.
Some advocates don’t like to talk about fraud, but denying its existence only further frustrates housing providers—many of whom work hard to comply with fair housing law and simply want to be treated fairly in return.
For the past 20 years, this topic has dominated fair housing training, conferences and court cases in Idaho and elsewhere. Most recently this spring it has been covered by the Intermountain Fair Housing Council and at the Idaho Apartment Association trade show, during a panel discussion titled “Fair Housing Horror Stories.”
The challenge facing everyone—housing providers, advocates and persons living with disability—is to agree on policies that are fair, accountable and defensible. Even service dog owners want to see tougher restrictions. As seen in the following article, they aren’t alone in their frustration over abuse of the law, no matter how rare it might be.
Excerpt from thevia the Idaho Statesman:
On July 1, Wyoming will become the 16th state in the nation to enact laws relating to misrepresenting service animals. House Bill 114 makes doing so a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a fine up to $750.
“This bill was made in an effort to try to protect those that truly do need the protection, and try to detour those who don’t,” said Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, the bill’s lead sponsor.
To read the full article, visit the link below: