Active Enforcement of Service Dog Law Compliance in MHC's Reported


#1

More than a few of our MHC owning clients as well as multiple state Manufactured Housing Association groups are reporting active testing animal accommodation Fair Housing and A.D.A. laws of MHC’s by litigation hopeful parties. Specifically, testers are calling MHC’s and seeking tenancy while stating they have a large animal that is an emotional support animal or Service Dog. They are hoping for either a flat rejection due to the dog or that the Manager will demand a pet deposit. Either answer is likely to cause a Fair Housing Claim to be filed against you. The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from denying or limiting housing to persons with disabilities, or from refusing to make reasonable accommodations in policies or practices for people with disabilities. This includes waiving pet fees for persons with disabilities who use assistance animals.

Here are some guidelines to follow to make sure you’re not soon sitting in court at the Defendants table:

  1. Property managers should be trained to respond to requests from prospective tenants that Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals may be allowed in the community and that any pet deposit is waived for them. However, the applicant must confirm the animal’s status in writing and include confirmation from their health care provider (see our recommended Tenant Confirmation form in the “Forms” tab at mobileagency.com titled “Service or Emotional Support Animal letter form from Tenant”). And ALL animals that exhibit aggression toward humans can be legally prohibited from being on your property. They are an exception to the rule;

  2. You can’t discriminate between disabilities. Thus, property managers should be trained to make the same accommodations to both (a) a clearly and severely handicapped prospective tenant in a powered wheelchair with a golden retriever on a tight leash that’s well trained and wearing a “Service Dog” sign on it AND (b) an apparently young able bodied man with a drooling rottweiler on a loose leash with no sign that claims that the dog is an emotional support animal or service dog;

  3. There is at least one group actively testing landlords in Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana at this time. They call, seek tenancy, and say they will be bringing their large dog which is a service dog. This group claims to be working in an effort to uncover those that discriminate against those with disabilities. They are a private company that makes a percentage of the judgments or penalties they are awarded from landlords. The Texas Attorney General’s office is investigating them for impropriety; and

  4. General Liability insurance does not cover claims of illegal discrimination against tenants. You need Tenant Discrimination Coverage (technically known as “Employment Practices Liability with Third Party Coverage Insurance”) to have both legal defense and indemnification coverage for claims of illegal discrimination.


#2

Judging from what I have seen in airports and in stores, there are plenty of people who call their pet dogs “emotional support service dogs” and get away with taking their dogs everywhere. I seem to remember reading an article a couple of year ago about some celebrity women, I think they were morning show hosts, who play that angle. So that kid with the drooling rottweiler is not just a theory.


#3

This is one of many reasons that Rishel Consulting Group has expanded our consultancy to include Fair Housing. We have focused on captive and related finance operations for years and only recently expanded into a couple of other solutions for smaller operators and thought that was enough.

When some of our finance clients began to get hit with regulatory actions and lawsuits they asked us to step in and help them with this ever growing compliance burden. We reluctantly began to explore it about a year ago, and made a decision to commit when one of our retainer clients was hit with a $250,000.00 judgement from a single incident.

Given the guidance letters that came out last year on several topics, Fair Housing has become very dangerous for community owners and, as Kurt wrote, there are groups coming from everywhere so it is not just HUD. Not for profits, local government, state government and others are all out to get landlords of every stripe.


#4

Here’s a quick update. Some states are now making it a criminal offense to call a family pet a “Service Dog” or an “Emotional Support Animal” when it’s not. Add notification of such to your Service Dog/Emotional Support Animal affirmation letters to help dissuade those that would claim a legal status they don’t have.


#5

Do we have the ability to request documentation that the animal is indeed a service or emotional support animal?

Mike


#6

Yes. You may ask for a note from a “health care provider” that says the animal is a medical necessity due to a recognized mental ailment. That said, you can’t ask a tenant “what their problem is” and you can’t demand a “pet deposit” on a service dog or an emotional support animal.