This article is from the Greater Boston Board of Realtors:

For years, property owners have struggled with how to enforce no-pet policies on their properties with the growing number of renter requests for assistance animals.  Complicating the matter, in recent years reports have risen about some renters using dubious third parties over the internet to buy certifications or registrations that say they need an emotional support animal.

To address the issue, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) just last week unveiled new assistance animal policy guidance, which includes important reforms advocated for by the National Association of REALTORS®.  Most notably, HUD’s final guidance contains the following policy revisions:

– The prohibition of exotic and farm animals;
– Clarification that landlords and doctors can inquire about the specific needs an animal meets for those with non-obvious disabilities; and
– Clarification that so-called Internet forms will not be accepted.

The guidance issued by HUD on January 28, 2020 explains how housing providers should handle requests for reasonable animal-related  accommodations to comply with the Fair Housing Act The full guidance can be found here:   https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/PA/documents/HUDAsstAnimalNC1-28-2020.pdf.

While this notice does not change the law, it clarifies how to handle circumstances that are often confusing. The guidance includes a step by step analysis for requests for a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal, specifically noting the differences between service animals (i.e. dogs trained as guide dogs) and emotional support animals and what questions a housing provider may ask in each situation.

Of particular note, the guidance differentiates between those animals which are commonly kept in household and those animals which may be considered unique. If an animal is commonly kept in a household, such as a dog, cat, small bird, rabbit, hamster, gerbil, other rodent, fish, turtle, or other small domesticated animal, the reasonable accommodation should be granted if the requestor has provided reliable information confirming the disability-related need for the animal. In those situations where the accommodation request is for a unique animal, the person making the request then has a “substantial burden of demonstrating a disability-related therapeutic need for the specific animal of the specific type of animal.”

Additionally, as a best practice, the guidance recommends that individuals seeking a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal have their health care professional provide the following information:

(1) whether the patient has a physical or mental impairment;
(2) whether the patient’s impairment(s) substantially limits one or more major life activity or major bodily function; and
(3) whether the patient needs the animal.

Further, if the request is for a unique animal, the following information would be helpful in supporting that request:
(1) the date of the last consultation;
(2) any unique circumstances justifying the need for the particular animal; and
(3) whether the health care professional has reliable information about the specific animal or whether they specifically recommend the animal.

Keep in mind, however, that the aforementioned items are not required.

Written by: Justin Davidson, General Counsel; Catherine Taylor, Associate Counsel; and Jonathan Schreiber, Legislative & Regulatory Counsel. Services provided through the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice, nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship. The Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®, by providing this service, assumes no actual or implied responsibility for any improper use of responses to questions through this service.  The Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® will not be legally responsible for any potential misrepresentations or errors made by providing this service
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