New Wyoming law bans misrepresenting service dogs

There’s an elephant in the room, and it’s wearing a bedazzled service animal vest.

As companies pop up to market official-looking ‘service animal’ vests, some people are abusing laws created to allow reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.

Both disability rights and ‘pet‘ advocates know this is wrong, and fraud is offensive to many individuals and groups, including housing providers.

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:

Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals: Where are they allowed and under what conditions?

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 the  via US News:

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, click link below:

New Wyoming Law Bans Misrepresenting Service Dogs

Idaho Fair Housing Cases

This section is provided as a courtesy to those seeking information on past cases filed and/or settled in Idaho. The list will be updated as cases are provided; the information below was provided by the Intermountain Fair  Housing Council as context for the 2016 Assessment of Fair Housing. Cases are organized by the protected class issues at the heart of the complaint.

Continue reading

2016 Fair Housing Month Calendar

Idaho Fair Housing Month Training Opportunities

Boise, ID April 5th and 6th (see below for additional dates and locations)

The Idaho Fair Housing Forum, U.S. Attorney’s Office, HUD and Intermountain Fair Housing Council are hosting a Fair Housing Celebration and Workshop focused on Basic Fair Housing topics on April 5, 2016, and April 6, 2016.

Featuring Idaho’s U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson and HUD’s Kristina Miller among others, the workshop will focus on the Fair Housing Act, Support Animals and Reasonable Accommodations, Addressing Hate Acts Under Federal Law and Fair Housing Compliance from a Housing Provider Attorney Perspective.  The event is offered as either an on-site training at Boise City Hall or via webcast at the same time, registration links for both options are below.  It will run from 8:00 AM to 4:15 PM Mountain.

Jennifer Yost and David Penny

Boise, April 5, 2016:  Webcast

Boise, April 6, 2016:  Webcast

For more information contact Brian Dale at HUD’s Idaho Field Office 208-334-1088 ext. 3005; or Zoe Ann Olson of the Intermountain Fair Housing Council at 208-383-0695 or zolson@ifhcidaho.org.

Please contact us for any reasonable accommodation needed for the event.

Boise Training materials/presentations


Additional locations and training opportunities

The Idaho Fair Housing Forum and Intermountain Fair Housing Council are hosting additional events focused on Basic Fair Housing topics in the following locations in mid to late April:

April 18, 2016

Lewiston Presentation Materials

April 18, 2016

Moscow Presentation Materials

April 21, 2016: Coeur d’ Alene Workshop

April 26, 2016: Pocatello Workshop

For more information contact Brian Dale at HUD’s Idaho Field Office (208-334-1088 ext. 3005); or Zoe Ann Olson of the Intermountain Fair Housing Council at 208-383-0695 or zolson@ifhcidaho.org.

Please contact us for any reasonable accommodation needed for the event.

2016 Regional Housing Roundtables—AI/AFH Presentation

BBC's Heidi Aggeler

BBC’s Heidi Aggeler outlines HUD’s new Assessment of Fair Housing process.

The Regional Housing Roundtables sponsored by Idaho Housing and Finance Association (IHFA) provide an opportunity for housing and community stakeholders to share information on needs, opportunities and challenges. Participants share updates on program goals, pending legislation or resources available to create housing that meets the needs of all community residents.

The Spring 2016 Roundtables also served as an opportunity to share information on the 2016 Analysis of Impediments/Assessment of Fair Housing (AI/AFH). In conjunction with key person interviews, data collection and a stakeholder surveys, IHFA used the Roundtable sessions as an opportunity for discussion of the preliminary findings of the 2016 process. IHFA and the Department of Commerce contracted with BBC Research and Consulting to conduct the analysis and produce a statewide report and planning document for Idaho’s non-entitlement areas.

BBC representatives presented the following information for discussion during the Spring Roundtables:

Housing Roundtables – Assessment of Fair Housing

BBC Research and Consulting — Heidi Aggeler

Preliminary Discussion on Analysis of Impediments/Assessment of Fair Housing

During the Treasure Valley Roundtable, we also added time for a presentation on Environmental Justice and Fair Housing Design and Construction by representatives of the Intermountain Fair Housing Council.

Environmental Justice and Fair Housing Design and Construction

Intermountain Fair Housing Council — Alison Brace and Carrie House

Environmental Justice/Design and Construction Discussion