Emotional support animals have been a source of contention between landlords and tenants since their recognition. Landlords have experienced great difficulty with trying to verify the legitimacy of an emotional support animal due to websites dedicated to providing fake emotional support animal documentation, and entire articles and blogs on ways to fool your landlord into accepting your untrained pet under the guise of an emotional support animal. In October 2018, the Governor of Pennsylvania approved the Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act. This Act is a step in the direction of minimizing emotional support animal fraud and increasing liability for that fraud should it occur.
A landlord may request documentation from a tenant as evidence of that tenant’s need for an emotional support animal, but may only do so if the tenant’s disability is one that is not “readily apparent” or known to the landlord. The type of documentation a tenant may use to evidence the validity of the need for an emotional support animal in housing must be in writing, be from a reliable source with direct knowledge of the disability, and describe the tenant’s need for the animal. Should the tenant provide this evidence, the landlord cannot charge additional fees for that tenant’s emotional support animal and cannot turn the tenant away for merely having an emotional support animal regardless of the landlord’s pet policy. In a response to the overwhelming complaints regarding fraudulent behavior, the Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act focuses on criminalizing those fraudulent acts regarding both support and service animals.
The first type of fraudulent misrepresentation, under the Act, is one regarding the individual’s entitlement to the emotional support animal. Should an individual misrepresent their entitlement to either an assistance animal (e.g., emotional support animal) or a service animal they will be found to have committed a misdemeanor in the 3rd degree. The misrepresentation will include: (i) misrepresenting the individual’s disability or a disability-related need for the assistance/support animal; or (ii) making materially false statements merely to obtain necessary documentation to qualify the assistance/support animal for housing.
The second type of fraudulent misrepresentation, under the Act, is one regarding the falsification of documentations to have their animal accepted into housing. Should an individual misrepresent that an animal is either an assistance animal or a service animal for housing purposes, despite their actual classification, that individual will be found to have committed a summary offense and be liable for a fine up to $1,000.00. This type of misrepresentation will be deemed to include: (i) preparation of a document which misrepresents the animal’s status as an assistance/service animal; (ii) providing a document to another individual misrepresenting the animal’s status as an assistance/service animal; or (iii) placing a harness, vest, collar, or sign on the animal which incorrectly states that the animal is an assistance/service animal.
The Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act is an additional legislative effort to deter tenants from defrauding landlords and bringing potentially destructive and untrained animals into rental units. This Act is not an answer to all of the issues that landlords are having with regard to emotional support animals, but provides additional ramifications beyond eviction which should discourage some tenants. Landlords need to be cautious and vigilant when accepting emotional support animals into rental units and review all documentation provided carefully and thoroughly. If a landlord fails to detect when the tenant is misrepresenting the animal’s actual classification, the protective language of the Act may be in vain.