Joining a handful of other states, New York recently enacted a state law making it a criminal offense to misrepresent that someone has a service or emotional support animal. The new statute, effective December 18, 2017, makes it unlawful for any person to knowingly misidentify a dog as a guide, service, therapy, or hearing dog. Violation of the law could result in a fine of up to $100 and up to 15 days in jail.
As permitted by our federal Fair Housing Act and various state, city, and/or county laws, some residents use service and/or emotional support animals (typically, but not always dogs) to help them in performing important tasks or to otherwise assist with receiving the full benefit of their apartment home. Assistance animals play an increasingly important role in our society and can be critical support for some residents. Service or emotional support animals (which, of course, are not pets) do not pay otherwise due pet fees and pet deposits.
The New York law was passed to help address the concerns that a minority of individuals are taking advantage of these important laws and abusing their protections. New York is attempting to deter individuals from engaging in assistance animal fraud.
As written in this space, almost all professional apartment management companies do it right and welcome assistance animals at our properties. What we have seen, however, is an unfortunate spike in the number of applicants and residents who go online and purchase an emotional support animal verification over the internet with a few clicks and a credit card. New York has now joined a few states in working to prevent abuse of an important law which assists those Americans with legitimate disabilities and who rely on animals every day.
A good practice is to work with your residents and applicants in preparing their reasonable accommodation request in an effort to ensure that all medical verifications are valid and were not purchased over the internet. This will help us get the request approved faster.
Just A Thought.