On January 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued long-await updated guidelines to housing authorities, such as condominium associations and homeowners associations, related to service animals, support animals, and reasonable accommodation requests.  A reasonable accommodation request is a tool that residents use when seeking accommodation from their housing authority to keep a service or support animal in a housing situation that may not otherwise allow for pets.  An update to replace the last issued April 2013 guidelines was desperately needed, as housing authorities have continued to struggle with how to handle an influx of reasonable accommodation requests from residents.

Given that reasonable accommodation requests can fall under the authority of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), Section 504, and/or the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), associations have found themselves in the middle of highly sensitive matters that must be handled with attention and care.  The following is a highlight of some of the changes and/or clarifications found in the January 28, 2020 HUD guidelines that Associations and owners should consider when making and/or reviewing reasonable accommodation requests:

Updated Definitions:
Assistance Animals (which consist of Service Animals and Support Animals) are animals that do work, perform tasks, assist, and/or provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities;

Service Animals consist of dogs;

Support Animals, consist mainly of common household pets.  While other unique animals may be considered, the requesting individual has a substantial burden of demonstrating the need for the specific type of animal;

  • A request for accommodation may be made in writing or verbally, before or after acquiring the animal. The Association should respond promptly to a request for accommodation, but no later than ten (10) days from the date of the request;
  • There are updated criteria and an FHA and ADA compliant line of questioning that associations are entitled to ask of individuals requesting an accommodation, including the provision of sufficient documentation and/or proof of disability that the requesting individual must provide to the Association;
  • A license, registration, or certification showing that the animal is licensed, registered, or certified as a Support Animal from an online source is not, by itself, sufficient to prove the requesting individual’s need for the Support Animal;
  • Associations cannot impose breed or weight restrictions on Service Animals or Support Animals;
  • Associations may not charge fees or collect deposits from residents in regard to their Service Animal and/or Support animal, even if pet fees or deposits are otherwise collected by the Association

While this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of criteria, this information provides a brief overview of what Associations and unit owners should consider regarding reasonable accommodation requests.  In our practice, we can assist Associations and unit owners with these types of matters in a variety of ways.  We draft House Rules which include subsections regarding the processes by which owners may make a reasonable accommodation request; we advise our clients regarding how to approach reasonable accommodation requests by relying on the HUD Guidelines, but also dig deep into the FHA, Section 504, and the ADA to ensure compliance; and we provide opinions and analyses regarding client questions and concerns when dealing with all aspects of reasonable accommodation requests.  Given the sensitivity of these matters, we recommend that you discuss your specific needs with an attorney before you take any action regarding Service Animals, Support Animals, or reasonable accommodation requests.