November 25, 2019

National Association of REALTORS® Supports Investigation into Emotional Support Animals

On Friday, November 8, the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs (HUD) sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), asking them to investigate websites selling assistance animal documentation.

The National Association of REALTORS® has long urged HUD to develop additional guidance for property owners when residents request an accommodation for an assistance animal. There has been a proliferation of web-generated documents purporting to provide medical documentation for the need of an accommodation. There are a number of legitimate reasons for someone to benefit from an assistance animal. But there have also been many cases of residents simply wanting to get out of paying a pet deposit or wanting to live in properties that do not allow pets.

In their letter, HUD states that web-based forms are only reliable if "the provider has personal knowledge of the individual’s disability-related need for the animal." NAR applauds HUD for their efforts, and will continue to work with them to ensure individuals with disabilities have access to the services and accommodations they need, while others do not abuse the system.

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.”

“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.