What are verification forms, and why are they important? Are one-size-fits-all or generic forms a good idea? We sit down with Leslie Tucker, a fair housing attorney, and she shares some things you need to know about verification forms.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Table of contents
Verification forms are an essential part of every property management office. But are they all created equally? What best practices need to be considered regarding certification forms and their content? This article will highlight the proper use of verification forms and share some tips to help you get the answers you need.
What are verification forms, and why are they used?
Verification forms are typically used after management receives a request for a reasonable accommodation or modification. They are used to verify if a resident is disabled under the definition of the Fair Housing Act and truly needs the requested accommodation or modification. In many cases, a disability may not be evident by just talking or looking at a person and requires a third-party verifier to request approval.
Does a community or property management company have to use verification forms?
The short answer is no. No rule says you have to use verification forms. However, it is recommended that you have an established process to handle these requests, including the use of a verification form.
Occasionally a resident may provide you with a letter from their verifier. If the letter contains all the pertinent information you require, then you wouldn’t need to proceed with a verification form.
What are some issues that can come up when processing verification forms?
One prevalent problem that we see is when a verifier’s qualifications or knowledge of the resident is questionable. In cases like this, we strongly recommend seeking the counsel of a fair housing attorney to determine the best course of action.
Another common problem is incomplete information being provided on a verification form or letter. In order to be considered for a reasonable accommodation or modification, a resident must provide proof of a disability as well as the disability-related need for the requested accommodation. If the documentation fails to provide this information, then you would need to reach out to the verifier for further clarification. Still, first you need to get permission from the resident—preferably in writing—to do so.
Tips or best practices for forms
Many properties employ the use of generic forms. While this is fine, they often lack targeted questions that can help when determining needs. For example, take a request that a resident has to remove the carpet in their unit due to allergies. A generic form would only ask for the basics like: “Is this person disabled?” and “Is the accommodation request related to the disability?”, making it very easy for a verifier to check a few boxes and move on. A customized form allows you to go into more detail and provide more specific information about the claim, such as asking if the resident has been tested for allergies, and if so, if any of those substances are located in their unit. Having this additional information can truly help when identifying a genuine need.
Another thing to keep in mind is your follow-up policy. If the resident files a complaint that their request was delayed, you will want to show that you followed up with them in a reasonable amount of time. Proper documentation of all conversations, including when they happened and what was discussed, will aid in this.
Verification forms – final takeaway
When properly prepared and utilized, verification forms will become a great asset to any property management company. Ensure that your office is up to date with its policies and procedures and, if possible, have specific forms for the many different requests we come across.
Jonathan (00:12): Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 50 of the Fair Housing Insiders. I'm your host, Jonathan Saar and joining me today is Leslie Tucker from Williams Edelstein and Tucker. So we're looking forward to having an amazing conversation about verification forms and how there's not a one size fits all when it comes to your verification form. So, we can't wait for her commentary and her feedback on this particular topic. Housekeeping reminders, please, if you haven't done so already subscribe to our newsletter that way you never miss out on an episode. You can also subscribe to the YouTube channel and if you like shorter content, we post a lot of fair housing related tips and topics on our Instagram account. So you can follow us there at Fair Housing Institute. So Leslie, we've had you on the show many times before. I'd like to welcome you again, how you doing?
Leslie (01:10): I'm great, Jonathan. Thanks for having me back.
Jonathan (01:13): Yeah, it's nice to have you and congratulations on the recent launch of the eCommerce portion of your website on fairhousingfirm.com, where you have a lot of templates available for verification forms. So it's nice that we get to talk about that today and, and I liked your comment before we started recording this, you know, that that's one of the challenges that you see is that sometimes property management companies will just default to a generic form. So let's get into some talking points and we'll see by the end of this show, everyone why you should not have just a one size fits all form by any stretch of the imagination. So, Leslie, what are verification forms and why are they used?
Leslie (02:02): Well, verification forms are used typically after management receives a request for a reasonable accommodation or a modification to kind of verify whether someone is disabled under the definition of in the Fair Housing Act and whether they truly need this particular accommodation or modification and why. A lot of times, and most of the time the need or the disability status, or both is not obvious just from talking to the person or looking at the person. So verifying that information with a third party professional is a lot of times necessary in order to, you know, determine whether you should approve the request.
Jonathan (02:52): Very good. Thank you for that. So is it necessary, like does a community, a property management company, do they have to use verification forms?
Leslie (03:05): So, no. I mean, the answer is no, you don't have to, there's no rule that says you have to you can approve all requests that you get if you want. I don't necessarily advise doing that. You know, it's really recommended that you have an established process for how you process each and every reasonable accommodation request. And it's recommended that forms be part of that process. You know, one situation where maybe a form would not be involved is if you got a request and then someone provides their own doctor's letter or some, you know, or a letter from a therapist or some sort of third party professional. And so they kind of beat you to the verification process by providing you with a letter, for example. So if you get a letter and it has all the information in it that you need to make this decision, then you wouldn't need to use a form.
Leslie (04:13): But a lot of times the process doesn't happen like that. A lot of times the request is made verbally or an email is sent. And in, you know, in which case you would bring in your forms into the process to verify the request. I think, you know, the other situation that you would use your forms is if you do get a letter or some sort of note from someone's healthcare provider and it doesn't have the information in it it's vague, it's brief, it doesn't have information about someone's disability status or why they might need this accommodation. That's another situation or another scenario where you would kind of bring in your forms into the process and say, look, I didn't get the information that I needed in that letter. I'm gonna need to use my form and follow up with your healthcare provider. So those are kind of the two situations that you would use a verification form in.
Jonathan (05:17): Excellent. Yeah. Thank you for that explanation. So are there any issues that can come up when you're processing verification forms?
Leslie (05:28): Absolutely. Yeah, all the time. And these issues keep me busy on a daily basis.
Leslie (06:37): The other situation is kind of one that I, that I referenced earlier, which is you know, you get a letter, it has some information in it, not really the information that you need. So, you know, some housing providers feel like they have to accept anything that's given to them as verification. And if it, you know, if that doesn't have the information in it that you need, which is A, it confirms the disability status of the person, this person is disabled under the definition in the Fair Housing Act and B this person has a need that's disability related for this specific accommodation. So those, those pieces of information are what you're looking for. And if you get a letter or a note from a healthcare provider and it doesn't have all that information in it, you then need to kind of go back to the applicant or resident and say, I'm sorry, you know, this letter isn't sufficient.
Leslie (07:48): I need to follow up with this verifier and ask some additional questions. You know, it's important that you receive the requester's signature as authorization to contact that healthcare provider. You can't do it without their permission. So that's an important step that you cannot miss and then kind of finding out what, what further questions do I need to ask to, you know, get to the information that I'm looking for. You can do that with an email. You can do it with a, you know, a letter that you just type up, or you can use a form that you just have kind of in your files that you can use as a follow up. And I think that it's really helpful to have some forms in your files that are established for certain purposes, for let's say parking requests and let's say animal requests, transfer requests. These are really common types of, of accommodation requests that, that housing providers receive every day. So it's really helpful in time saving to have those already in your files, so you can reach in and send those, those forms out when you need 'em.
Jonathan (09:11): Yeah. Yeah. Very good. Thank you for sharing those examples. That was kind of like my train of thought, just hearing all of that explanation, you know, that was at the beginning, we were talking about how some feel , well, if I just have this form, it should cover, you know, check all these boxes for all these different types of situations, but that definitely can create a lot more challenges and a lot more problems for a property manager and for the company itself, if they, if they go down that route, because there's just, like you said, there's just so many different situations where you have to get, you know, verification, like, you know, you mentioned parking and there's assistance animals, live in aid, allergies. And, you know, there's a lot of different things that, you know, people may be making requests for. And so having different forms, you know, that meet you know, that discuss that particular item makes it a lot easier for you as a management company. Okay. So we've talked about, you know, some challenges that may come up when you're processing verifications, any tips or best practices that you could share with our audience about forums and verifications?
Leslie (10:29): I think the best practice is just within your procedure. Once you send a verification form out to a verifier, don't just sort of let it, you know, go off into the wind.
Leslie (11:32): So you wanna be able to show that keeping good records regarding what's going on in the process. If, you know, if you have conversations with the resident or applicant about their request if you make alternative suggestions regarding maybe something that they're not thinking of that might meet their needs, make sure all of that is documented really, really well. And I think as far as another, you know, best practice for forms is if you have a verification form in your files, if your company just kind of has a verification form and it's generic, and it says, you know, does this person meet the definition of disability? Does this person need, you know, this fill in the blank, accommodation, sign your name, thank you. You know, a lot of companies that I've come across have forms that look just like that.
Leslie (12:36): And they send them out for every single type of request and they don't ask any other questions. And it's just it's just so easy.
Leslie (13:47): So, you know, in your verification form, you can ask, has this person been tested for allergies? Which of those substances that they're allergic to are located in their carpet?
Jonathan (15:13): Absolutely. Less room for error. When you have something that's there, it's straightforward and it puts less pressure on the property manager at that community, too. I'm sure. Just to be able to say, you know, this, we need to have this filled out. So, yeah. Excellent explanation. I think anyone who's listened to the show is gonna take a look at if they have a one size fits all form and rethink whether that's a
Leslie (16:10): Sounds good.
Jonathan (16:11): So here's the, here's the vague letter. Leslie, what are your thoughts on the content?
Leslie (16:20): This letter is a really good example of letters that I see from clients all the time physicians, or, you know, other kinds of healthcare providers, they don't always know exactly what it's supposed to go in these letters or how much information to give. A lot of times they're very brief, they're very vague. In this specific example, the letter references a medical condition. And again, I see this a lot certain, you know, conditions or ailments, that doesn't necessarily mean that this medical condition constitutes a disability under the Fair Housing Act. We all have medical conditions. We all have ailments, but that doesn't mean that we are necessarily all disabled. So this language used, medical condition, is not sufficient in order to determine that this person is disabled. Another thing that sticks out to me in this letter is that the physician says that this person would benefit from a unit transfer. Reasonable accommodations and modifications have to be necessary, not just beneficial, not just preferable.
Leslie (17:44): It has to be absolutely necessary because of someone's disability. So the language used in this letter, benefit from enable her to sleep better. None of this is showing me that this transfer is necessary because of a disability. So if I got this letter as a manager, I would definitely follow up with this physician or whatever, whatever medical professional this is to ask more questions and to get kind of more information on the disability status and the need, I think you would absolutely be justified in doing so.
Jonathan (18:30): Right. And I'm sure justified in having them fill out a form of some sort.
Leslie (18:36): Sure, absolutely. Yeah.
Jonathan (18:46): Okay. Leslie, it's that time where we give you five questions or fair housing fast five, and see if you can answer all five of these questions in under one minute. And if you win, you know, you might get a cruise to the moon or to Mars or Jupiter or something. That's our, that's our prize offering for today for anybody who gets under under one minute.
Leslie (19:10): That's a great incentive, Jonathan,
Jonathan (19:12): Thank you. Yeah. Famous fictitious, you know, prize winnings, you know, this isn't jeopardy. We don't have anything really real, but this is a lot of fun to ask these questions and see if we can get 'em under five minutes. So are you ready?
Leslie (19:23): I'm ready.
Jonathan (19:24): All right. Can a landlord require the use of its forms?
Leslie (19:29): No, not technically. It's the use of forms is strictly just recommended
Jonathan (19:34): Is a landlord allowed to ask follow up questions of a verifier?
Leslie (19:39): Yes. If a verifier doesn't initially give all the information needed to make the decision you can ask follow up questions.
Jonathan (19:47): Does a tenant have to authorize a landlord to contact her verifier?
Leslie (19:52): Absolutely. 100%. You can't contact the healthcare provider without authorization.
Jonathan (19:58): What are two benefits of using a verification form?
Leslie (20:03): Keeping consistency in your process for processing reasonable accommodation requests and being able to customize and ask questions that are relevant to the request.
Jonathan (20:13): Where can I get verification forms?
Leslie (20:18): You can create your own and which is difficult, or you could go to fairhousingfirm.com and order some from that website.
Jonathan (20:30): Very good. That was, that was actually really, really close. Leslie. So a minute and five seconds, minute five.
Leslie (20:36): Oh, right.
Jonathan (20:37): Yeah. So you came that close to a trip to Jupiter, so well done very well done. That was awesome. Awesome. great topic. So thank you again for providing some insight. So key takeaway, avoid generic forms, use the proper forms. It will make your life a lot easier. So we really appreciate your commentary and providing our community with that insight. So again, congratulations on your new online store fairhousingfirm.com. Do you wanna tell our audience a little bit about what's available on that store?
Leslie (21:14): On my firm's website, we are offering some already pre customized verification forms and request forms for some common types of requests, like parking and assistance animals and allergies and things like that. So there are some, you know, questions that are already kind of prefilled that apply to a lot of these different situations. So they're, you know, they're available for you to purchase and you can, you know, further customize them based on whatever, you know, scenario you happen to be going through. But the meat and potatoes are there already for you to use. There's also some some sample policies that are useful for a lot of different communities as well. So I would, I would recommend checking it out.
Jonathan (22:08): Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for sharing this, a little overview, so fair housing firm.com. So we'll make sure that's in the show notes and if you're in need of forms, yes. Please check that out. So again, thank you, Leslie, for sharing your experience, your insight on this topic for today and for our community. Thank you for being here. Thank you for sharing this this show, this episode with your team, with your network. Keep in mind that we have episodes coming up in the in the future where we address your questions. So if you have questions and you're interested in possibly winning a $250 prize, please submit your questions on any of our YouTube episodes. We keep track of them. And so at a future episode, when we're addressing community questions you could be a random winner for just submitting those questions. We appreciate your support. Thank you for being here today. If you have any other topics that you would like us to discuss, please feel free to reach out to us, direct message us, and we'll be happy to consider them. So thank you again until next time. Take care, everyone.
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