Property Management

The Current State of Assistance Animal Accommodation Requests

by Brad Morris

Rental housing providers throughout the country often struggle to handle requests from residents and prospective renters to accommodate assistance animals. This is a contentious — and potentially litigious — issue, and the number of complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) alleging discrimination in the evaluation of these requests is increasing significantly.

To help rental housing providers understand the accommodation request landscape around them, PetScreening publishes quarterly reports summarizing the results of its ongoing evaluation of these requests. The latest report is based upon a subset of more than 75,000 accommodation requests submitted to PetScreening from across the nation between second-quarter 2017 and first-quarter 2021.

Among the findings:

  • 41.3% of the reasonable accommodation requests submitted for a formal legal review achieved a “recommended” determination.
  • 36.2% of requesters started, but did not submit, a reasonable accommodation request for a formal legal review.
  • More than 93% of accommodation requests involve support animals, and just less than 7% involve service animals.
  • Dogs account for 82.4% of the accommodation requests. Cats account for 16.6% and other animals – including rabbits, guinea pigs and fancy rats – for 1%.
  • Pit bulls are the dog breed most commonly involved in an accommodation request, followed by mixed breeds, Labrador retrievers, German shepherds and Chihuahuas.

Moving beyond the specific data, it’s important for apartment operators to keep a few things in mind. To start with the obvious: there are many residents with legitimate disabilities and disability-related needs for assistance animals and reasonable accommodation(s) should be made for these renters.

Unfortunately, though, some prospective renters are trying to circumvent an apartment community’s pet policies to avoid paying pet fees. They will often insist that you’re not allowed to ask questions or require them to provide proof of their need for an assistance animal. They might even threaten legal action and become actively hostile and aggressive to onsite associates, which can intimidate a property into accepting an animal without a proper and thorough review.

To help rental housing providers distinguish between a renter who has a legitimate need for an assistance animal and one who simply wants to have a pet and skirt a community’s pet policies and fees, HUD issued new guidelines in January 2020.

Beyond familiarizing themselves with these guidelines, however, operators should consider using a third-party provider to screen assistance animal accommodation requests. Doing so can mitigate liability, save time and prevent unnecessary lost pet revenues while creating consistent yet unique animal review procedures at all of your apartment communities.

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