Most landlords understand that there are circumstances when they must allow a tenant with a disability to keep a companion animal. But for some landlords, each companion animal request raises the same nagging question: what if this is a scam to avoid fees or to keep a pet in a no-pets building?
The problem is pervasive enough that more than a dozen states have passed laws aimed at preventing fraudulent service animal requests.
With the help of websites touting medical prescriptions to turn a pet into a companion animal, what many landlords fear is a legitimate concern. These websites sell “certification” along with letters from healthcare professionals. Some of these websites guarantee documentation, while others tout fake government endorsements. One goes so far as to offer a tutorial on what to say in order to qualify for a companion animal prescription.
But those professionals did not meet the tenant, or at the very least, did on online or phone interview before making the recommendation.
Sadly, some of the tenants who obtain these certifications already qualify for companion animals and don’t realize they are paying for something they don’t need.
In response to complaints from housing providers, fair housing groups, and disability rights activists, HUD, the agency that created the companion animal policy, has asked the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to investigate websites that offer companion animal documentation online.
HUD argues that the certification offered is not necessary and therefore takes advantage of persons with disabilities. Also, HUD claims that these online services make it easier for those who do not have disabilities to falsify companion animal requests, casting suspicion on legitimate requests.
“These websites are using questionable business practices that exploit consumers, prejudice the legal rights of individuals with disabilities, dupe landlords, and generally interfere with good faith efforts to comply with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act,” says HUD’s General Counsel Paul Compton.
HUD warns that the documentation available on the websites in question is not reliable. That’s because the healthcare professionals providing the documentation lack the personal knowledge necessary to assess whether the tenant suffers from a disability.
Reliable documentation includes a note from a healthcare professional who has personal knowledge of the tenant’s condition, or a disability determination letter from a government agency. HUD encourages healthcare providers to explain that the animal assists with the disability. Landlords can request documentation to support a companion animal request but cannot delve into the tenant’s disability or in any way intimidate a person making the request.
Certification is not a condition created by the Fair Housing Act or HUD guidelines. Service jackets, licenses, special collars and the like are not necessary to claim a companion animal.
One companion animal certification website touts an endorsement from HUD, which the agency says is fraudulent and misleading to consumers.
This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).
Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.