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.

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

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

Lots of Association board members worry whether the Association is required to enact rules to control dangerous dogs.  In McMahon v. Pleasant Valley West Association, the Commonwealth Court ruled that an Association does not have a duty to force a unit owner to maintain, control or confine their dogs on the dog owner’s property.  The Association also does not have a duty to prevent dogs from harming other unit owners.  Because they have no duty to control the dog, or to protect unit owners from harm caused by the dog, the Association was not responsible for injuries to the unit owner.  The Court noted that there was no “special relationship” between the Association and the dog owner or the victim of the dog attack.  The Court noted that the Association did not act to “provide any additional protections against an attack by the … dogs over and above the protections provided in the dog law….” Continue Reading Homeowners’ Association is not required to protect residents from dogs

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

When it comes to smart phones, Lancaster’s technology lawyers Matt Landis and Brandon Harter rarely agree on anything. Brandon wisely chooses the superior flexibility offered by Google’s Android environment, while Matt continues to dogmatically do only what someone in a long-sleeved black T-shirt and jeans tells him.

 In this post and in Matt’s counterpart, we managed to find some common ground: we can’t stand distracted driving. These posts will outline how features on an iPhone or an Android phone can reduce distractions and make the road a little bit safer for everyone.

 With the release of Apple’s Do Not Disturb While Driving feature as part of iOS 11, it is worth taking the time to remind everyone that Android apps have been helping us manage this for years. In a nutshell, the app prevents distracted driving by: (1) silencing your phone so you cannot see new text messages until you arrive; and (2) gives you the option to automatically reply that you’re driving and will get back to them when you arrive. Continue Reading Public Service Announcement: How your Android phone can help prevent distracted driving

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.

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?

Every year, the stroke of midnight on December 31 brings with it a host of resolutions and the promise of changes for the new year.  In light of this, NBC News ended 2018 with an article highlighting some interesting new laws taking effect across the country in 2019.  One city will see a change in what to expect from take-out orders, and one state will have a much more difficult choice of what beer to buy in grocery and convenience stores.  Sorry, the last one is not Pennsylvania!

One state is even taking an interesting approach in trying to increase its dwindling population.  Vermont is offering $10,000 to those employed by out of state employers who are willing to make the move.  If Ben and Jerry’s and maple syrup are your thing, and your job allows you the opportunity to work remotely, then pack your bags! Continue Reading Ringing in the New Year with Alimony Tax Changes, Pet Custody, Moving to Vermont, and More!

Now that the weather is warming, residents are taking to the sidewalks, walking trails and open spaces of their Community Associations.  Here are some reminders for property managers and board members.

Homeowners’ Associations are not required to protect residents from dogs

With everyone out walking their dogs and children soon to be out of school, Associations often ask if they are required to make rules and regulations to control dogs.  Associations are not required to protect residents from other people’s pets.

But, if the Association does create rules and regulations to control dogs, it needs to enforce them.
Continue Reading Reminders for Condominiums and Homeowners’ Associations: People Coming Out of Their Homes Edition