Fraudulent Service Animals Are Residents Feigning Special Needs?

There are few people as passionate as pet owners, and for evidence look no further than condo and co-op communities. The many health and aesthetic concerns that go with pets compel many boards to favor a ban on pets altogether. However, if the board succeeds in implementing a no-pet rule, don’t expect everyone to follow it. Across the country, many residents are exploiting well-intentioned laws designed to protect those with special needs in order to keep their pets.

Through the Americans with Disabilities Act, federal law provides for exceptions to pet bans in the case of those who can demonstrate a need for a service dog and what’s called an “emotional support animal.” According to the Judge Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, co-op and condo boards, in addition to landlords, must make reasonable accommodation for any and all disabled individuals.

“Very few laws have been abused as far as the reasonable accommodation statute,” says Attorney Adam Leitman Bailey, founding partner of the law firm of Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. in New York City. “I would say most of the service dogs requested do not come from people who are disabled or people who have a disability that require a service dog,” says Bailey.

The idea that most service animals are not actual service animals is stunning, but it’s difficult to prove with data. The federal government does not keep track of all service animals, and there are several organizations that have set up their own individual registrations. “Between the online websites that sell certificates, tags, vests, etc., and the medical providers that advertise to write letters for a one-time fee and after a one-time consult by phone or taking an online test where they provide the answers, the abuse is difficult to control.”

There are a lot of websites that will provide people with badges and vests for their animals indicating that they are service animals for a price (around $70), but those registries are all independent and unregulated. There are no official registries for service animals. The only documentation that indicates if a service animal is legitimate or not is a doctor’s note.

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4 Comments

  • If landlords realize that pets are part of the family & stop banning pets this wouldn't go on. If there's a fear that the landlord will be sued if a dog bites - let everyone in the building sign releases limiting liability to the animal's human and not the landlord prior to moving into the building - solves the problem! If you don't like living in a building with pets, you just don't move in. Dog owners can be required to carry insurance. Cats, birds, hamsters, fish etc. aren't a problem, they don't go out.
  • Good article, John. I learned the hard way to keep my mouth shut when it comes to dog owners and their bad behavior when they walk their dogs in Central Park. For example: Dogs on long leashes have licked my leg while I'm reading the New York Times under a shady tree wearing shorts in the hot and humid summer months. It's like don't say a bad word to a mother's child. However, when it comes to my home in a East Midtown Co-op building, I occasionally open my mouth politely to dog owners. For example: Barking dogs all day when the owners are at work and I try to take an afternoon retiree nap. I'm in the elevator and a dog jumps on me for a friendly hello. Then, there's the dog owner's pet licking my leg in the elevator as I try to leave the building to go for a stroll in Central Park wearing shorts in the summer months. Oh, and a dog lifting his leg in the hallway or in the building elevator because the pet's owner waited a little too long to get his/her dog outdoors in the street. What about the pet owner who doesn't pick up the dogs mess in front of my Co-op building? So, I don't have a problem with a Co-op Building's shareholders and their elected Board of Director members banning dogs in their building expect certified guide dogs for the blind. There are too many uncaring dog owners who refuse to accept responsibility when their neighbor raises a gripe regarding their bad behavior when they allow their dog to be a quality of life issue. Michael Z, East Midtown, Manhattan
  • My 150 unit Florida co-op does not allow cats or dogs. Thanks to the Fair Housing Act, we now have seven emotional support dogs living here. They are all well behaved and make most people smile when we see them in the elevator, etc. They also bring great comfort to their owners, whose ailments include heart conditions, insomnia, anxiety and depression. I know two elderly residents who were suffering from loneliness. Now they have small dogs and are again able to enjoy their lives; it's great to see them happy again. Any dog who would create a nuisance (such as excessive barking, biting, soiling premises) would not be allowed. The only problems we have in our building are caused by people, not dogs. Dogs don't smoke, have loud parties, break pool rules, or illegally rent out their units. Instead of begrudging people a source of happiness and companionship, be thankful that the Fair Housing Act empowers associations to make these exceptions to their rules. And make it clear that the pet owner must not allow the pet to become a nuisance. If so, it has to move out.
  • Do you publish a "The COOPERATOR' for Texas. Our co-op is located in San Antonio, TX. If, sadly, not. What edition would substitute. Thanks.