Anti-Disability and Service Animal Bill Awaits Governor Landry’s Signature

House Bill 407 by Representative Joe Stagni of Kenner, also known as the Service Animal Integrity Act, was approved by the full Louisiana Senate without objection on Thursday, May 16th. This discriminatory legislation requires vulnerable populations to wait weeks and spend untold amounts of money on multiple healthcare visits before having the opportunity to benefit from a service animal in the home. These obstacles are not only unfair, they’re illegal. Representatives from Louisiana Fair Housing and Disability Rights Louisiana testified against the bill in the House and Senate Health and Welfare Committees, identifying how the bill violated both the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. However, both committees unanimously moved the bill favorably, and it now awaits the Governor’s signature before going into effect. 

Under the Fair Housing Act and American with Disabilities Act, housing providers cannot create undue delays or penalties for individuals seeking reasonable accommodation, and this legislation includes both delays and penalties. Legislators were warned not only about the bill’s federal right’s violations, but also of the high rates of discrimination that disabled people face when seeking reasonable accommodations from housing providers. Discrimination on the basis of disability is the number one Fair Housing complaint reported by individuals. Here at Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, we see similar patterns of discrimination

By requiring that disabled individuals jump through expensive and lengthy hoops to “prove” their disability, this legislation ultimately punishes disabled people with service animals. Disabled people face routine discrimination when it comes to housing, and this legislation makes it even more difficult for people to exercise their federal rights to reasonable accommodations.

There were great misunderstandings from elected officials on these protections: Test yourself on the following:

  1. True or False: Service Animals = Emotional Support Animals 

False. Service animals and emotional support animals are afforded different rights, although both are generally classified as assistance animals. Disabled people may request reasonable accommodation for service animals and other types of assistance animals, including support animals. 

Under the ADA, “service animal” means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.

Under the FHA, “support animal” means any other trained or untrained animals that do work, perform tasks, provide assistance, and/or therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities.

  1. True or False: Housing providers cannot ask questions about a reasonable accommodation

False. If it is readily apparent that the dog is trained to do work or in the case the individual identifies at least one action the dog is trained to take that is helpful to the disability, other than emotional support, then the dog should be considered a service animal and permitted. For example, if a dog is observed guiding an individual with low or impaired vision, further questions about an individual’s need for a support animal are unnecessary and inappropriate. 

If the need for the animal is non-obvious and not known to the housing provider, a housing provider may ask an individual with a disability to provide information in support of an accommodation request for a support animal, including documentation of a disability or a disability-related need for a support animal. 

  1. True or False: Reasonable accommodation requests must include a letter from a healthcare professional

False. The request for a reasonable accommodation with respect may be oral or written. If an individual is seeking a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal they may need to provide to a housing provider information about their disability-related need for the requested accommodation, including supporting information. 

Reasonably supporting information often consists of information from a licensed health care professional – e.g., physician, optometrist, psychiatrist, psychologist, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or nurse, but may be made by others on behalf of the individual, including a person legally residing in the unit with the requesting individual or a legal guardian or authorized representative. Disclosure of details about the diagnosis or severity of a disability or medical records or a medical examination cannot be required. 

  1. True or False: Housing providers must accept reasonable accommodation requests

False. If the person requesting the accommodation does not provide information which reasonably supports that the animal does work, performs tasks, provides assistance, and/or therapeutic emotional support with respect to the individual’s disability, the housing provider is not required to grant the accommodation unless this information is provided.

Before denying a reasonable accommodation request due to lack of information confirming an individual’s disability or disability-related need for an animal, the housing provider is encouraged to engage in a good-faith dialogue with the requestor.

Landlords and renters should refer to HUD’s Guide on Assessing a Person’s Request to Have an Animal as a Reasonable Accommodation Under the Fair Housing Act, with any questions or concerns about an individual’s request to live with a support animal.
If your housing provider has denied your request for an accommodation due to a disability, such as allowing you to have an emotional support animal, call the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center at (504) 596-2100. Help is free and confidential.

Posted by Malcolm Phillipson 05/18/2024and categorized as Blog, Press Releases, Uncategorized