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.