Designation of Therapy Animals to Evade No Pet Policies

The trend of fraudulently labeling pets as “therapy” or “emotional” animals to avoid a building’s no pet policy is on the rise. Landlords are increasingly reluctant to challenge their tenants as any denial could result in a discrimination suit resulting in fines up to $250,000. Unlike trained service animals such as a seeing-eye-dog, emotional support animals do not need formal training. In fact, there are websites online that will generate a doctor’s note stating the tenant’s need for a service dog for under $200. Despite the therapy exemption, the concern is that therapy animals may become a nuisance to landlords and neighbors.
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Are Landlords Required to Allow Service Animals?

Under federal law, landlords are required to provide “reasonable accommodations” based on an individual’s disability.  Disabilities can be mental, emotional, or physical in nature.  Landlords must comply with the Fair Housing Act, and regardless of a pet policy, a landlord may be required to permit a tenant to keep a service animal to accommodate an individual’s disability.

Service animals may assist with mental, emotional, or physical needs.  Additionally, a service animal could include any type of animal that qualifies.  Traditionally people consider service animals to be dogs, but they can also include cats, birds, rabbits, and any other animal that may assist with the person’s disability.  These animals are not considered pets, but working animals.

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