HUD Secretary Carson Seeks Federal Investigation Into ESA Websites

Nov 13, 2019

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson requested the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigate websites that sell assistance animal medical verifications, aka “letters sold for a fee.”

In addition to misleading Americans, Carson said online sellers also “take advantage of persons with disabilities who need a reasonable accommodation to keep their assistance animals in housing. This request for the FTC action reflects HUD’s ongoing commitment to protecting the housing rights of persons with disabilities.”

As HUD General Counsel Paul Compton states, “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.”

Not only do these companies offer unnecessary certification and registration documents, they often provide the required attestation after completion of a simple online form and payment. Most consumers do not realize that these practices are illegitimate. An online form evaluated by a mental health provider or a single consultation alone does not constitute a legitimate treatment relationship.

Also concerning to HUD were certificates appearing to be affiliated with a governmental agency. There is no government-sponsored animal registration list nor are assistance animals certified.

Carson’s letter to the FTC indicated providers must have “personal knowledge of the individual’s disability-related need for the animal.” HUD describes “personal knowledge” as “knowledge of the type that health care providers ordinarily use for diagnosis and treatment,” as contrasted with simply self-selecting from an online questionnaire and assessment tool.

Notice: Our process and providers fully comply with HUD’s FHEO 2020 guidance and we rise in the strongest support of efforts to fully legitimize this market.

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