At the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021, airlines began changing their rules with respect to emotional support animals.  United, American, Delta, Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines (as well as many local and regional air carriers) have decided that emotional support animals are not permitted on flights.  Trained service dogs, however, are still permitted on flights.

Despite these recent changes, the rules that apply to airlines are not the same as the ones that apply to housing.  I have written a number of posts about emotional support animals and where they can go:

These blog posts cover situations when someone requests an emotional support animal in relation to housing.  These cases often come up when a condominium or apartment building does not permit pets and someone requests a reasonable accommodation to allow a support animal.

In today’s post, I want to make sure that associations and landlords do not get confused and try to follow the recent examples of the airlines.
Continue Reading Are Dogs Allowed on Airlines? An Update on Emotional Support Animals

I have written a number of articles about whether a condominium or homeowner association (or apartment owner) needs to allow emotional support animalsDelta airlines new policy related to service and emotional support animals created some controversy and was heavily reported in national news.  As service and emotional support animals become more commonplace, questions keep coming up, and so associations need to be reminded of what to do when a resident wants to keep a support animal.

To review, there are two federal laws to follow:  the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”).  The ADA says that a service dog is permitted in all public places.  A service dog is an animal that is specially trained to perform a task that is directly related to a person’s disability.  Under the FHA, providers of housing – like a landlord of  condominium association – need to provide reasonable accommodations for assistance animals.  Unlike a service dog, an “assistance animal” does not need to be specially trained to perform a task.  They can provide only emotional support for a person with a disability.  The definition of assistance animal or emotional support animal is much broader than a service animal under the ADA. Continue Reading Are These Dogs Allowed: Yet Another Case on Emotional Support Animals

I have written a number of times on this blog about providing reasonable accommodations for “service animals” and “emotional support animals.”  This legal battle continues to affect condominium and homeowner association communities.  A recent case shows a new way that a condominium association could get in trouble for refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation: because of a neighbor’s blog post.

Estate of Walters v. Cowpet Bay West Condominium Association, begins with the “usual” issue.  Two condominium unit owners sought to keep “emotional support dogs” in the condominium.  The condominium’s rules absolutely banned pets.  In this case, the Court determined that the unit owners were disabled, and that the support animals were necessary to allow them the use and enjoyment of the condominium unit.  Because of this, the condominium association was required to make a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act.

The concerning part of this case arises from the blog of some disgruntled neighbors.  The opinion from the United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, quoted a number of blog posts from residents of the community that opposed the emotional support dogs.  One neighbor replied on a blog post “isolate them [the unit owners] completely to their little “dog patch” on the beach and ignore them at every venue or occasion!” Continue Reading Could a Condominium Face Legal Trouble Because of Residents’ Blog Against Emotional Support Animals

I have written many times about service dogs and emotional support animals.  Associations and Landlords are flooded with requests for service or support animals, reasonable accommodations, ESAs, PSAs, ADA and the FHA. It seems like any time someone has a question about a pet, a Landlord or Association needs to consult an attorney. So, I decided to “apply” for an emotional support animal online. I wanted to better understand the process and what happened at the end of my application.

First, a quick reminder of the law. Under the Fair Housing Act, a “housing provider” (which includes Landlords and Condominium and Planned Community or Homeowners Associations) must provide “reasonable accommodations” to permit someone with a disability to enjoy housing on an equal footing with people who do not have a disability. Sometimes, a person requires a “support animal” to assist with their disability. A “support animal” is just any animal. It does not need to be trained to do anything, be registered or wear a vest. If a resident has a letter from a physical or mental health professional that says the person has a disability and would benefit from a support animal, Landlords and Associations are required to permit those animals.

I know that it is easy for anyone to get a letter prescribing an emotional support animal. But I wanted to, once and for all, understand just how easy it was. So, I Googled “Emotional Support Animal.”  Tens of millions of hits came up. I clicked on the first sponsored ad. I took their quiz. The quiz was about a dozen questions. Here is the first one, directly from the website:

The next one:

Then there were a bunch just like this:

I answered them truthfully. I said that I sometimes feel sad, or worried, that I have occasionally lost sleep or have been irritated. I said that being with my dog, a 40-pound English Bulldog named “Butkus” makes me feel happy and less stressed. This is a lie because I do not have a dog. In my defense, if I DID HAVE an English Bulldog named Butkus, that would be really cool.

When I completed a dozen or so questions just like these, the Website asked me about my pets. This site limited the choices to dogs and/or cats. This is where I made up my bulldog. (Butkus was the name of the dog that Adrian got Rocky. I thought it was an English Bulldog, but it was actually an English Mastiff.)  Then I hit “Complete” and guess what? I was qualified to have an Emotional Support Animal.  For just $99, I could get the doctor’s letter that told the world about my disability and how Butkus helped. For another $89, I could have gotten a couple more items, including a “Service Animal” vest for Butkus. I decided not to spend the money. Because it is hard to get an imaginary bulldog to wear a red vest.

Here is part of my letter:

This is very similar to letters that my clients show me from residents. Sometimes the problem is anxiety or depression, but the gist of the letter is just about the same as mine.

Whenever a Landlord or an Association gets a letter like this, they have to permit the emotional support animal. You cannot ask additional questions about the disability, or decide on your own whether the resident really needs a support animal. The ESA is not subject to limits on pets. We like to tell clients that an ESA is not a pet, it is a prescription. The ESA is not subject to weight or breed limitations. You cannot charge a pet fee or deposit for an ESA.

This does not mean that the Landlord or Association cannot regulate the support animal’s behavior. Rules such as picking up after the animal, having them on a leash, not allowing them to be tied out unattended, and not allowing excessive noise are still enforceable against an Emotional Support Animal just like any other animal.

It is hard to write a blog like this without seeming judgmental. That is not my intent. Many people have legitimate emotional issues and having a dog or cat helps them through the day. Most of us want our neighbors to be happy, and if an animal helps, I am all for it. Also, philosophically, why should my neighbor care if I have lovable, slobbery bulldog? Now if I don’t pick up after him, or if he barks all night, then my neighbor has a reason to complain. But those are the kinds of rules that all animals have to follow, whether they are support animals or “just” pets.

The reason that I went through this exercise is to help Landlords and Associations understand how that doctor’s letter gets to them. When you get this letter, there is no way to tell if the resident is really suffering, or just had five minutes and $99 to spare. Landlords and Associations need to take letters like this at face value. My letter, and every other one like it, has all of the legal requirements of the Fair Housing Act to permit an Emotional Support Animal. This is the law, and there is no sense being angry about it, or trying to find ways around it.

On February 11, 2021, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it will begin to enforce the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  This is a significant change because in many states, including Pennsylvania, a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identification has not been treated as a protected class.

Moving forward, housing providers, like landlords and condominium and homeowners’ associations, will need to treat sexual orientation and gender identity the same way that they treat race, color, gender, nationality, disability and familial status.

Reasonable Accommodations

Most of my posts on Lancaster Law Blog that deal with the Fair Housing Act talk about emotional support animals. All of the emotional support animal stories involve someone with a disability requesting a reasonable accommodation.
Continue Reading The Fair Housing Act Will Enforce Prohibition on Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

This is a post about reasonable accommodations that does not involve an emotional support animal. I cannot remember the last time I did not write about dogs. Recently, the Pennsylvania Federal Courts ruled that an Association does not need to provide the exact accommodation requested, if the Association offers accommodations that achieve the same function.

In this case, a resident needed a walker to get around. She would use the walker to get from her condominium unit to the lobby of the building. From there, she would leave the walker in the lobby of the building and use her cane to get to her car. The resident insisted that she needed to leave her walker in the lobby of the building.

The Association was not happy leaving the walker in the lobby. It offered a handful of possible solutions. The Association offered to store the walker at the concierge’s desk and retrieve it anytime she asked. They offered to have someone bring the walker to her parking space so she could use it to get out of the car. This building has valet parking, so the Association offered to allow her to use the valet parking (presumably free of charge). The resident rejected all of these solutions. She insisted that she needed to store her walker in the lobby.

The resident sued the Association under the Fair Housing Act, claiming that they did not provide a reasonable accommodation for her disability. The District Court and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals both sided with the Association. In doing so, the Court made two extremely important points that help guide Associations. Continue Reading Associations are Only Required to Make Reasonable Accommodations, Not All Accommodations

At the end of 2018, Pennsylvania passed the “Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act” or ASAIA for short. ASAIA is designed to eliminate fraudulent claims by pet owners asserting a need for an “emotional support animal” in order to bypass the Association’s rules on pets. I have written a number of articles on support and assistance animals. These are very difficult and confusing issues for Associations (and landlords) to decide. Let’s look at the ASAIA to see if it actually simplifies these questions.

To review, there are two federal laws to consider: The Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). The ADA says that a service dog is permitted in all public places. A service dog is a dog that is specially trained to perform a task that is directly related to a person’s disability. Section 504 of the FHA applies to providers of housing – like a landlord or condominium association. The FHA says that a housing provider needs to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation could be an “assistance animal.” Unlike a service dog, an assistance animal does not need to be specially trained to perform a task. An assistance animal can be an animal that relieves the symptoms of a disability. Today, we see people with disabilities such as anxiety or depression using an animal to provide emotional support.

Does the Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act change existing requirements?

Photo credit: guillermoluis21 on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

I think the Act is a good effort by the General Assembly. At the end of the day, unfortunately, I do not think it makes a big change in the way that associations (and landlords) need to deal with disabled individuals. Here are the reasons why:

  1. The ADA and FHA are both federal laws. I am not sure that a state law can be more restrictive toward disabled persons than the federal law. I think that most, if not all, of the federal requirements remain in place despite the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
  2. Under the ADA (which deals with service animals), a housing provider is only permitted to ask two questions. They are:  (i) “Is this a service animal that is required because of a disability?” and (ii) “What work or tasks has the animal been trained to perform?” These are the only questions that are permitted, even if a person’s disability is not readily apparent. Section 3 of the ASAIA says that an association can request documentation for either service or support animals. I do not believe that the ADA allows an association to ask for documentation for a service animal.
  3. The FHA (which, for our purposes, deals with support animals) permits an association to request documentation when someone asks for a reasonable accommodation for an emotional support animal. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), however, limits this request only to situations where a disability is not readily apparent. HUD says that the housing provider is permitted to request documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker or other mental health professional to confirm that the animal alleviates the effect or symptoms of a disability. A HUD notice states:  “Such documentation is sufficient if it establishes that an individual has a disability and that the animal in question will provide some type of disability-related assistance or emotional support.”

Compare this to Section 3(b) of ASAIA.  The HUD guidance and ASAIA are generally the same. However, ASAIA seems to require more specific information. For example, ASAIA requires the documentation to be based on “direct knowledge” of the person’s disability and need for the support animal. Arguably, the FHA requires the same kind of reliable documentation. But the standard that needs to be met under the FHA has been pretty easy to establish. To the extent that ASAIA allows an association to ask for more documentation, the association needs to be careful.

Associations should not think that ASAIA allows them to make an independent judgment about whether the emotional support animal is needed. Simply put, if an association gets (i) a letter from a mental health professional that says (ii) a unit owner has a disability like anxiety or depression, and that (iii) the animal provides some sort of assistance or emotional support, the association needs to provide the reasonable accommodation. The association should not be using its judgment to determine whether the medical professional is correct or not. In this way, the ASAIA does not make that much of a change to the existing situation.

The final two portions of ASAIA are great news. Section 4 provides that an association (and landlord) is not liable for injuries caused by a service dog or support animal. Sections 5 and 6 create criminal penalties to misrepresent the need for a service dog or support animal. The penalties are more severe for people that fake documentation or fit an animal with a harness or vest that falsely indicates the animal is a service animal. I do not believe these are pre-empted by federal law. Hopefully they will make people think twice about misrepresenting the need for a support animal.

All of the associations that I work with want to provide accommodations for people who really, truly need emotional support animals. This is difficult to do when people can go online and get the required paperwork for $69.95 to “document” their need. [Note: A quick Google search of “emotional support animal certification” brings up about 10 million results. I am not going to link to any of these providers.] Although the Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act might not be perfect, I hope it can help associations (and landlords) to make better decisions in this area.

Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including BusinessCommercial Real EstateLand Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters.

Photo credit: guillermoluis21 on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

Aaron Marines was a recent contributor to the January/February 2017 issue of Community Assets bi-monthly magazine for the Pennsylvania and Delaware Valley Chapter of Community Associations Institute.

“Associations are often faced with the question of whether they need to ignore their dog rules for an “emotional support animal.”  Many boards are surprised to learn that they DO NOT need to alter pet rules…”

If you are a member of Community Associations Institute, you can read the full article in print or online.  You may also wish to learn more about other issues relating to Condominium and Homeowners’ Associations by reviewing some of Aaron’s blog posts on the Lancaster Law Blog.

Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including Commercial and Residential Real EstateLand Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters.

On Fridays, we compile and post Legal Links, a list of legal news, reported cases, community events and topics of interest to Lancaster residents and readers of the Lancaster Law Blog.

 1.  Emotionally Supportive Pythons. A Council Bluffs, Iowa woman is at odds with a local ordinance that prevents owning snakes, because she wants to use her pet pythons as emotional support animals.

Coincidentally, Aaron Marines discussed this issue last week with respect to condominium and homeowners associations, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the distinction between emotional support animals and service animals in this post: Are SOME Dogs Allowed?

2.  At a Secret Location in Ephrata…artists are working on bronze replicas of the infamous Joe Paterno statute that was removed from the University Park campus in 2012 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Ever wonder about how the law protects sculpture and other original works of authorship?

Take a look at Section 102 of the Copyright Act of 1976 for some light reading on the subject. Or reach out to our own Matt Landis, who is currently taking a course on copyright law from Harvard Law School to supplement his knowledge of intellectual property and the law.

P.S. This blog post was written in a not-so-secret location in East Hempfield Township.

3.  #UnlockTheBox. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking last week that proposes to change the current model for providing video from cable companies.

Currently, consumers rent their cable boxes from their providers, costing consumers an average of $231 per year. Under the proposal, cable companies would be required to provide video using open standards, allowing consumers to purchase set-top boxes from third party manufacturers, such as potential offerings from Apple, TiVo, Roku, Google, Amazon or others who already provide access to streaming services through various products.

This article contains an overview of proposed effects of the FCC proposal: The FCC wants to blow up the cable box.

Please submit topics or community events for future Legal Links to

Are SOME Dogs Allowed?

I occasionally field questions from clients about whether an Association needs to ignore their dog rules for an “emotional support animal.” Many boards and developers are surprised to know that they DO NOT need to alter pet rules RELATED TO BEHAVIOR for an emotional support animal.

Let me give some background.  The Americans with Disabilities Act requires a landlord or condominium or homeowners association to make reasonable accommodations to permit disabled persons to enjoy the full use of their properties.  This includes making reasonable accommodations to permit “service animals” if necessary to assist people with disabilities.  The short rule is that an association really cannot prohibit or significantly regulate a “service animal.”
Continue Reading Are SOME Dogs Allowed?