New Pennsylvania Law Seeks Balance Between Fair Housing Act and Service Animal Scams

The federal Fair Housing Act requires landlords and housing facilities to allow service dogs and emotional support animals, if necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home.  To fall under this provision, the person seeking the animal must have a disability and have a disability-related need for the animal. 

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of bogus service animal goods and certificates available from common internet marketplaces.  Amazon will sell vests and dog tags indicating your dog is a “Service Dog,” or an “Emotional Support Dog,” with absolutely no proof of either the animal’s abilities, nor the necessity for the purchaser to have such an animal.  Admittedly, many people purchasing such paraphernalia are either interested in avoiding scrutiny under a Landlord-Tenant Lease Agreement, or the imposition of an additional fee or rent for having a pet, or having their animals accompany then to restaurants, stores, etc.

On December 24, 2018, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law the Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act.  The Act is limited to housing situations, such as rental complexes, condominiums,  and planned communities, and is intended to protect landlords or property management companies or associations from fraudulent requests for an accommodation to allow animals in a person’s dwelling,

The Act defines an “Assistance animal,” as an animal, other than a service animal, that qualifies as a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act,…. The term includes an emotional support animal when the animal qualifies as a reasonable accommodation. On the other hand, a “Service animal,” is an animal, other than an assistance animal, that qualifies as a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or as a guide or support animal under the act of October 27, 1955, known as the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

The protections afforded a landlord or housing community are provided by the following provisions of the Act:

  1. The landlord or association may require the person to produce documentation of the disability and disability-related need if the disability or disability-related need is not readily apparent or known.
  2. The documentation must be in writing, “be reliable and based on direct knowledge of the person’s disability and disability-related need for the assistance animal or service animal.”  It should be noted that there is nothing in the Act which requires that the documentation be provided by a health or mental health professional.
  3. Describe the person’s disability-related need for the animal.
  4. The landlord or association is afforded immunity for injuries caused by such an animal if the animal has been permitted on the property as a service or assistance animal.
  5. If an applicant misrepresents the entitlement to an assistance or service animal, by misrepresenting to another that he or she has a disability or disability-related need for the use of such an animal in housing, or by making materially false statements for the purpose of obtaining the documentation referred to above, he or she may be charged with the crime of misdemeanor of the third degree.
  6. If an applicant creates a document misrepresenting the animal as an assistance or service animal, provides a document to another falsely stating that the animal is an assistance or service animal or fits an animal that is not an assistance or service animal with a harness, collar, vest or sign that the animal is an assistance or service animal, he or she commits a summary offense and, upon conviction, shall be sentenced to pay a fine not to exceed $1,000.00.

This new law, if applied as intended, should curtail bogus assistance or service animal requests while at the same time protecting the needs and rights of those individuals who have a legitimate need for such an animal and to allow such individuals an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their home.

Hoffmeyer & Semmelman LLC is a law office in York PA. Contact us today to schedule an appointment to review your legal documents.

© Copyright by Hoffmeyer & Semmelman LLC, April 2019