Assistance Animals

Fraudulent Assistance Animal Accommodation Requests: A Many-Pronged Problem

    Imagine getting ready to board a flight when a member of the security team informs you that your child cannot accompany you. He has brown hair, you see, and is above average size for his age group, the security associate says. That means he falls under the airline's restricted list.

    That's how many apartment shoppers feel when they are attempting to move into a home, only to find out that their pet isn't welcome due to an arbitrary restricted list. Just as the parents almost certainly wouldn't board the flight in the scenario above, apartment prospects aren't likely to live at that property.

    They will either move on to a more pet-accommodating community—or perhaps attempt to bend the rules. This is often the time when the prospective resident may seek out a way to present their pet as an emotional support animal (ESA), and they won't have to look far to do it. In an unsettling sign of the times, many websites are dedicated to producing official-looking documentation designed to pass the verification process of property teams.

    To be fair, these residents aren't necessarily coming from a sinister place. They simply want to live with their pets, and this might seem like their only option. Naturally, there is the other side of this, as well—bad actors who are simply trying to skirt pet rent and fees by passing off their pet as an assistance animal.

    For property teams, it doesn't matter whether the intentions of the pet owner are pure or deceitful. Accurately evaluating reasonable accommodation requests for assistance animals is paramount for various reasons. Most notably, it can be a liability risk if an illegitimate assistance animal causes damage or injury. Additionally, rental communities can lose out on rightful revenue if a pet that is subject to regular pet rent and fees lives at the community under the guise of being an assistance animal—like an ESA.

    Thankfully, the industry can take measures to combat this on-the-rise trend. For starters, by eliminating restrictions—such as weight and breed—in favor of evaluating pets and their owners on a case-by-case basis, properties can eliminate the desire for pet-owning residents to seek fraudulent credentials. If their pet has a fair chance to live at the property, there is no need to seek out a fake ESA designation. Granted, operators moving to this model should do so in a measured, responsible fashion rather than simply opening their communities to all pets without an evaluation process.

    Secondly, operators should greatly consider outsourcing their verification process for reasonable accommodation requests for assistance animals. Onsite associates generally are not experts on the nuances of the guidelines imposed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or the Fair Housing Act, nor are they naturally adept at spotting fraudulent documentation. Attempting to verify these requests can be stressful, time-consuming, and frankly, not in their wheelhouse.

    By outsourcing these requests to an assistance animal review tool and team that can quickly recognize insufficient documentation and provide rapid answers, properties can greatly increase their accuracy and take the onus off property teams.

    Fraudulent and insufficient accommodation requests for assistance animals continue to become an issue in the rental-housing sector. Approximately 60% of the reasonable accommodation requests reviewed and evaluated by PetScreening do not meet HUD guidelines or those set forth by the Fair Housing Act.

    Fortunately for the industry, resources are available to help conquer this trend.