Verification of Disability for Reasonable Accommodation
Under Massachusetts law, landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled. For instance, a hearing impaired person may need a visual doorbell. Or, someone afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder may require an emotional support animal. But just because a tenant asks for it doesn’t mean you must allow it. You can separate out legitimate needs from false claims by requiring “verification of disability.”
Very important: It doesn’t matter whether you want to install the doorbell, or whether your apartment allows pets. In the case of a bona fide disability, there would have to be an unusually serious reason why you cannot make the accommodation, otherwise you may be found to be unlawfully discriminating.
- Related article: Federal protected classes
This form should be given to an applicant during the application stage as soon as you hear their request for an accommodation. It can also be used with an existing tenant whose life circumstances have changed.
The form has three sections to be filled out by three separate people. You fill out the landlord section. The tenant fills out the “applicant” section, and the “physician or other qualified professional” fills out the whole back page.
To view this form, you must be logged-in and a member in good standing
Verification of Disability from an LCSW is Valid
You may receive a verification signed by a “licensed certified social worker” or “LCSW”. To our knowledge this is not a medical degree, it’s a masters in social work. You might therefore be tempted to deny the accommodation. Be careful. Under Massachusetts law, a disability does not have to be verified by a medical doctor. According to one of the attorneys listed in our service provider directory, Massachusetts law requires us to accept the following sources as verification of a disability:
- Treating Physicians/Psychologists
- Clinic and Hospital records
- School records (IEP, IQ evaluations, etc.)
- Consultative Examinations authorized by the Department of Developmental Services
- by panel physicians/psychologists
- by attending physicians/psychologists
- Non-physician health care professionals
Included in the list of non-physician health care professionals are licensed certified social workers. Be careful: not all social workers are clinical, so ask for some proof of a health care job, like a clinical title.
Privacy laws may prevent you from learning the exact nature of the disability. So don’t pry.
If the disability is obvious, you cannot require this form! For instance, presenting this form to a blind person with a seeing eye dog would be construed as discrimination by bureaucracy. This is the only time more paperwork isn’t better.
Avoiding Fraudulent Paperwork
Of course emotional support animals play a key role in the lives of many who legitimately need them. But unfortunately, some renters use the assistance animal law as a loophole to avoid prohibitions on pets. Our form has language that reduces the likelihood a healthcare provider or other signatory will fraudulently complete this form on behalf of a renter. Issuing a false emotional support animal prescription using this form, should the form be needed in court, will violate MGL Chapter 268 Section 1A.
There is a best practice beyond the form. After receiving the form, review the provider information. If the address is out-of-state, and your renter is not known to have lived or traveled there, it may indicate they purchased the form online. Search for the address and verify if it matches one of the recognized provider types (see above under LCSW). Try to verify that provider’s license or authorization under MA law. You may contact the provider and ask to speak to the person who signed the form or their assistant to verify the information they provided.
Verification of Disability Conclusion
Note that you should not know what the disability is. Many situations can contribute to a difficulty or impairment, including drug addiction and resultant recovery processes. If a provider discloses information that violates health information privacy, call or write to the provider and tell them that they provided you too much information.
In general, public health and safety will trump all disability claims. You do not have to grant a request that is very unreasonable. When in doubt, grant the request and/or contact an attorney.
- Related Article: Reasonable Accommodations