Ask The Lawyer, Emotional Support Dogs?
FAKE PAPERS FOR FIDO COULD BE CRIME UNDER PROPOSED LAW
QUESTION: For most of the last six months I worked from home, with my dog Lachlan, a Highland terrier, keeping me company — and vice versa. When the office reopened and I went back to work, Lachlan did not take it well: He’s been shredding pillows, scratching the door, and howling when I’m gone (my neighbors complained). My landlord has advised me I have to get Lachlan under control or get rid of him. I’ve heard it’s pretty easy to get a dog certified as an emotional support animal, and that landlords have to allow tenants to keep emotional support animals on the premises. Lachlan means a lot to me – and I’d be really stressed without him.
ANSWER: Ideas like this is why legislators in Michigan’s House of Representatives Michigan recently passed a pair of bills to deter tenants from making bogus claims that they are in need of an emotional support animal for poorly defined “disabilities.”
Under House Bill 4910, it would be a crime for an individual to “falsely represent to a housing provider that he or she is a person with a disability or is in possession of and requires the assistance of an emotional support animal.” The proposed law also carries criminal penalties for health care providers who falsely represent that an individual has been diagnosed with a disabling condition and requires the use of an emotional support animal for that condition. And, unless the tenant had an obvious disability, the law would allow a landlord to request written documentation of the disability, and would tighten the requirements for and qualifications of health care providers who give such certification.
The second bill, HB 4911, would allow landlords to evict tenants found to have been fibbing about being a person with a disability in need of an animal for emotional support.
Both bills are currently in committee. But even without a change in the law, your scheme has little chance of success.
While the Fair Housing Act requires landlords to make “reasonable accommodations” to rules, policies, practices and services to allow tenants with a disability “equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling,” you would need to produce some proof that you actually have a disability and that allowing you to keep Lachlan is the only accommodation that will do the trick – allow you to “fully enjoy the premises.” Although the definition of “disability” adopted by the FHA is broad – people are considered disabled if they have a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity – temporary stress over your dog’s separation anxiety does not constitute a disability.
And, even if you had a bona fide disability with which Lachlan helps you cope, your request might still be viewed an unreasonable if Lachlan’s barking and destructive habits cost the landlord a lot, creates an administrative headache, interferes with normal operation of the property or poses a “direct threat” to other tenants.
While having Lachlan declared an “emotional support animal” may not be possible, you are not alone in having a dog that is experiencing separation anxiety. According to a survey by Rover.com, 58 percent of dog owners are concerned about their dog experiencing separation anxiety, post-Covid-19 shutdown. And, there are things you can do to help reduce Lachlan’s stress, from hiring someone to walk him mid-day to keeping the TV on so he doesn’t feel alone. Your vet should be able to provide you with more detailed information.
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ASK THE LAWYER
By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq
.Attorney and Counselor at Law
GWINN LEGAL PLLC
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
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