Online Certification May Not Always be Adequate Verification of Disability

A recent court case demonstrates that online verifications of disability may not always be adequate for purposes of proving the need for a reasonable accommodation under fair housing law. The case is Fitzsimmons v. Sand & Sea Homeowners Association, November 2018.

Facts of the Case

  1. A resident alleged a disability as the result of a 2009 accident involving malfunctioning workout equipment.
  2. In 2017, the resident bought a Rottweiler puppy to serve as an assistance animal, stating that the dog was needed on the advice of his doctor.
  3. When he received a notice of violation for having a Rottweiler (which was not permitted), the resident told the property that the puppy was a service animal.
  4. As evidence, he provided service dog identification cards bought online, a handicap parking placard, and copies of disability checks to verify his need for the dog.
  5. The community denied the request stating that the documentation did not demonstrate either disability or the need for the animal.
  6. The resident filed suit under the Fair Housing Act.


The court dismissed the case.


  1. The resident failed to prove he had a disability under Fair Housing law.
  2. The only information about the disability was in the complaint. No evidence of actual disability was provided.
  3. The community provided photos of the resident riding a scooter, standing, and walking without aid.


While owners and managers should not automatically reject an online certification, an owner has the right to determine if the verification meets the requirements that it is (1) reliable, and (2) from someone familiar with the person’s disability. If an online certification is issued by a recognized group, or a medical or mental health provider, an owner may have to approve the request. Owners may request confirmation from the treating professional verifying that the applicant is under the provider’s care and treatment and that the provider has diagnosed a medical or mental condition that renders the patient disabled. An owner may also request confirmation from the treating professional that the animal is prescribed to assist with the disability. In this case, the court ruled that the plaintiff did not prove that he was disabled, so the issue of whether the assistance animal was needed was not considered. If the plaintiff had been able to provide evidence of a disability, he would still have been required to show that the dog was needed in order to ameliorate the effects of the disability.