Service Animal Websites Face Scrutiny
The nation’s top housing official is pushing the Federal Trade Commission to look into websites that sell assistance animal documentation saying that the sites dupe people with disabilities into unnecessarily buying their products.
U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson sent a letter this month to FTC Chairman Joseph J. Simons and Andrew Smith, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, calling for an investigation after hearing from advocates.
“Housing providers, fair housing groups and disability rights groups have brought to HUD’s attention their concern that certain websites may be misleading consumers with disabilities into purchasing assistance animal documentation that is unreliable and unnecessary,” Carson wrote. “According to these groups, the websites also may be selling assistance animal documentation to people who do not have disabilities substantially limiting a major life activity, enabling such people to claim that their pets are assistance animals in order to evade housing providers’ pet restrictions and pet fees.”
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Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords must provide reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities, which can include allowing service animals in units where pets are not typically welcome.
Sometimes documentation — like a note from a doctor — is helpful, housing officials said. However, certificates purchased online are not appropriate.
“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,” Carson said. “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.”
Carson is asking the FTC to investigate the websites to determine if they’re in compliance with the Federal Trade Commission Act, which outlaws unfair competition and deceptive business practices.
Officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development said they’ve identified at least one website that features the housing agency’s seal without authorization.
The FTC did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.