HUD Asks FTC to Investigate Websites Selling Assistance-Animal Docs

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We have posted about the seriousness of service animals many times over the past few years.  And now, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is seeking action against online companies that profit from selling sham assistance animal documentation at the expense of rental housing providers and renters who have legitimate needs.  Hud says these companies’ documents are intended to justify reasonable accommodation requests for assistance animals (service animals and emotional support animals (ESAs) in housing but are often used to skirt pet restrictions under false pretenses.  The full release is as follows:

 

WASHINGTON – Recently, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson wrote to Chairman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Joseph J. Simons and Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection Andrew Smith requesting that the FTC investigate certain websites that may be selling assistance animal documentation.

“These certificates are not an acceptable substitute for authentic documentation provided by medical professionals when appropriate,” said Secretary Carson.  “These websites that sell assistance animal certificates are often also misleading by implying that they are affiliated with the federal government. Nothing could be further from the truth. Their goal is to convince individuals with disabilities that they need to spend hundreds of dollars on worthless documentation to keep their assistance animal in their homes.”

The Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to grant a reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities that affect major life activities when it may be necessary for such individuals to have equal opportunity to enjoy and use a dwelling.  One type of reasonable accommodation is an exception to a housing provider’s rules regarding animals to permit individuals with disabilities to keep assistance animals that do work, perform tasks, or assist individuals with disabilities.  Documentation, such as a note from a healthcare professional, is helpful and appropriate when a disability is not obvious and not already known.

HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Anna Maria Farías, explained, “Websites that sell verification for assistance animals take advantage of persons with disabilities who need a reasonable accommodation to keep their assistance animal in housing.  This request for FTC action reflects HUD’s ongoing commitment to protecting the housing rights of persons with disabilities.”

“These certificates are not an acceptable substitute for the authentic certification received from medical professionals and the websites are misleading because they often imply, they are affiliated with the federal government,” said Secretary Carson.  “Nothing could be further from the truth. Their goal is to convince individuals with disabilities that they need to spend hundreds of dollars on worthless documentation to keep their assistance animal in their homes.”

“The Fair Housing Act provides for the use of assistance animals by individuals with disabilities.  Under the law, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity or bodily function,” said HUD’s General Counsel Paul Compton. “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.”

The letter asks the FTC to investigate these websites for compliance with federal laws that protect consumers from unfair and deceptive acts or practices.  HUD identified at least one website that contains the seal of HUD without authorization.

Persons who are concerned about these websites may contact the Federal Trade Commission by calling the FTC’s Consumer Response Center at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or online.  Persons who believe they have experienced housing discrimination may file a complaint of discrimination by contacting HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at (800) 669-9777 or visiting How to File a Complaint on HUD’s website.

Click here to read more at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

 

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Director of Education & Outreach, National Real Estate Investors Association