New Assistance Animal Integrity Act Clarifies Requirements for Assistance Animals in Condominiums and Other Illinois Residential Housing

Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP

Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP

A new Illinois law that will take effect on January 1, 2020, will help condominium associations and other housing providers evaluate requests for emotional support animals and other assistance animals.

Under existing federal law, a condominium association or other housing provider must reasonably accommodate the needs of  any resident who has a physical, mental or emotional disability and needs an assistance animal to help cope with that disability.  Even if an association’s Declaration of Condominium expressly prohibits all animals, a disabled person must be allowed to keep an emotional support animal or other assistance animal if various requirements are satisfied.

The Illinois Assistance Animal Integrity Act, which will become effective on January 1, 2020, will help condominium associations and other housing providers fulfill their obligations to their disabled residents by clarifying what is required to establish disability and disability-related need for an assistance animal. The Act also supplements federal law in a number of respects:

Therapeutic Relationship Required. Going beyond federal law, the Act requires that documentation submitted in support of an assistance animal request must come from a person who has a “therapeutic relationship” with the resident seeking the accommodation.  The Act 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.” Because a therapeutic relationship requires that care services be provided, in good faith, for an individual’s disability, documentation submitted on the basis of a single visit to a health care provider solely to obtain a “doctor’s note” will generally not be legally sufficient.

Service Animal Registration Certificates and ESA Letters. The Act recognizes that there has been a proliferation of on-line businesses that claim to “certify” or “register” assistance animals, or arrange for health care professionals  to issue letters certifying a disability and the need for an emotional support animal (so-called “ESA letters”) without a meaningful assessment of whether the person is disabled or has a disability-related need.  To address this problem, the Act expressly provides that a “certificate, license or similar document” does not satisfy the therapeutic relationship requirement unless the issuer has conducted “a meaningful assessment” of a person’s disability and disability-related need for an assistance animal.  
Disability May be Documented by Non-Medical Personnel. The Act provides that confirmation of disability and disability-related need for an assistance animal does not necessarily  have to come from a health care provider.  Anyone who, after conducting a meaningful assessment, is in a position to know about the resident’s disability and need for an assistance animal can provide documentation in support of an assistance animal request. Whether such documentation will be deemed reliable will depend on the circumstances.

Association Not Liable for Injuries Caused by Assistance Animal. Section 15 of the Act provides that a condominium association is not liable for injuries caused by an assistance animal allowed on the property as a disability-based accommodation under applicable law.

Dueling Disabilities. From time to time, associations are faced with a situation where the presence of a requested assistance animal would pose a serious problem for another resident who has a physical disability (e.g., disabling allergy to dog dander) or a psychological disability (e.g., a crippling fear and dread of dogs).  The Act recognizes this problem but doesn’t provide much guidance.  Under the Act, a condominium association “may consider” the documented disability-related needs of other residents when evaluating a request for an assistance animal, but cannot deny an assistance animal solely due to the disability-related needs of another resident.  Rather, the condominium association “must attempt to balance the disability-related needs of all residents.”  How that is to be accomplished is left unsaid.

Requests for Multiple Assistance Animals. If a resident  asks to keep multiple  assistance animals, the Act authorizes  the condominium association to request supporting documentation as to the need for each of the requested assistance animals.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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