Part 2 - "Stop Internet Animal Verification Fraud!" HUD to FTC
As discussed in the first article in the series, conscientious providers of housing are deeply concerned with the right of residents who need accommodations to rules because of disabilities. One accommodation to pet rules that many persons with disabilities benefit from is an allowance to have assistance animals. These may address physical or emotional needs. Many of our clients have asked about apparently predatory websites that sell "verification" or "certification" of assistance animals relating to disabilities. We did an investigation on one of these websites, which we concluded was almost surely fraudulent, as documented in the first article of this series.
Usually a person can secure one of these animal "certifications" by filling out a short questionnaire, or perhaps after a brief interview. No truly reliable diagnosis is provided. Many reasonable persons have concluded that these certifications often are unreliable or even fraudulent. It is interesting that HUD shares these concerns. HUD's Secretary has asked the Federal Trade Commission to explore the issue of possible fraud. Some of the comments in a letter making this request are below. Some of the language in the letter may also be helpful for those trying to develop a policy that ensures reliable verification while not overly restricting , as allowed by HUD and the Department of Justice guidance.
“These certificates are not an acceptable substitute for authentic documentation provided by medical professionals when appropriate...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...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. Nothing could be further from the truth...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.”
In a press release, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Anna Maria Farías provided further details.
"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 letter asks the FTC to investigate these websites for compliance with federal laws that protect consumers from unfair and deceptive acts or practices. HUD also identified at least one website that contains the seal of HUD without authorization.
A press release and a copy of the secretary's letter can be found HERE.