New Illinois Law: Assistance Animal Integrity Act

MUST READ: Illinois’s 2020 Assistance Animal Integrity Act

“As an advocate for good government, I’m delighted Illinois is cracking down on spurious Internet-based operations pumping out fraudulent ESA letters. I rise up in strong support of this new legislation.”

– Chaz Stevens, ESADoggy Founder & CEO

If you’re a resident of Illinois and considering an assistance animal, then please read on as the rules have drastically changed.

And get ready for sticker shock.

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, housing providers are required to provide a reasonable accommodation to a disabled resident for their assistance animal(s).

To evaluate such accommodation requests, a housing provider must consider whether the individual:

  • does have a disability, and 
  • has a disability-related need for an assistance animal. 

Generally speaking, an assistance animal:

  • provides assistance
  • performs tasks
  • or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the symptoms or effects of the individual’s disability. 

Calling into question the rampant fraud of internet vendors selling bogus documents, the newly adopted Illinois Assistance Animal Integrity Act (“AAIA”) aims to provide direction and guidance. 

The AAIA was signed into law on August 23, 2019, and will take effect on January 1, 2020.

Under Section 10(a) of the AAIA, if a housing provider receives an accommodation request for an assistance animal, the provider may require that the requestor present “reliable documentation of the disability and disability-related need for the animal only if the disability or disability-related need is not readily apparent or known to the [association].” 

So what does that mean for residents of Illinois?

Section 5 of the AAIA defines a “therapeutic relationship” as “the provision of medical care, program care, or personal care services, in good faith, for and with actual knowledge of, an individual’s disability and that individual’s disability-related need for an assistance animal by: (1) a physician or other medical professional; (2) a mental health service provider; or (3) a non-medical service agency or reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual’s disability. ‘Therapeutic relationship’ does not include an entity that issues a certificate, license, or similar document that purports to confirm, without conducting a meaningful assessment of a person’s disability or a person’s disability-related need for an assistance animal, that a person: (a) has a disability; or (b) needs an assistance animal“. 

Continuing, AAIA section 10(d) states, “[i]f the initial documentation is insufficient to show the existence of the therapeutic relationship required under subsection (b), an [association] may request additional information describing the professional relationship between the person and the individual with a disability.

So, as we’ve been discussing for the past few years, it’s all about the therapeutic relationship. Was the clinician in a position to know? Did the applicant exclusively secure the clinician’s time merely to be assessed and issued an ESA letter, as all too often, clients secure an online certificate or letter without having a therapeutic relationship and throughout examination by a licensed clinician.

Moving forward in Illinois, if you buy a cheap online letter based strictly on an assessment (which includes nearly all online vendors), your letter is going to be rightly denied, which will raise a giant red-flag with your housing provider. 

That’s why we offer ESABest ™, a product focused on mental health care and aligned with the latest professional ethics, standards of practice, and the law.