Due to many requests from our members (which, by the way, helps me identify a subject for my monthly President’s Message), I have researched common situations that you may encounter with emotional support animals.
Emotional support animals (ESAs) can come in all shapes and sizes, making it difficult to know how to properly handle accommodation requests and avoid possible fair-housing complaints. The following information should help you identify a proper identification process for emotional support animals based on the Fair Housing Act and manage some common situations that may arise.
EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS: PROPER IDENTIFICATION
How do you handle an applicant who states they have an emotional support animal and presents you with an ESA letter? This can be tricky, as many of these letters can be obtained from the Internet without much of a professional relationship between the resident and the verifier.
To help with these situations, you should have a verification process in place based on the Fair Housing Act that includes asking the resident and the verifier specific questions.
QUESTIONS TO ASK THE RESIDENT
- Did you contact the verifier for the sole purpose of obtaining an ESA letter?
- Have you had more than one or two brief contacts with the verifier for the purpose of providing a verification?
- Does the verifier have personal knowledge of your disability and need of an animal?
- Has the verifier provided you with medical or mental health services
QUESTIONS TO ASK THE VERIFIER
- Did the resident contact you for the purpose of obtaining a verification?
- Other than providing a verification for an assistance animal, do you have an ongoing professional relationship with the resident by providing medical or mental health services?
- Do you have adequate personal knowledge of the resident to be able to make a diagnosis of a disability? Please note: We are not requesting that you provide the diagnosis.
As you can see, the above questions will establish whether or not the resident has an ongoing relationship with the verifier and meets the criteria of having a disability that requires the aid of the animal.
BREED AND SIZE RESTRICTIONS
Can you restrict an ESA based on breed or size? The short answer is NO. If the need for the animal has been verified, the Fair Housing Act states that accommodations must be made. Your job is to now welcome Muffy the 100-pound Rottweiler, or Wilbur the pot-bellied pig, to the family.
We can see that the Fair Housing Act protects the need for emotional support animals under certain circumstances. A verification process, along with fair housing training, will ensure that everyone’s needs and rights are met.
Keep the questions coming …
Please Be Kind to Others and Be Safe! ◊