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Companion Animal Guidelines Challenged in North Dakota, Elsewhere

Companion Animal Guidelines

Digested from the Jamestown Sun. 

A controversial bill has been proposed in North Dakota that would allow apartment owners to evict renters and collect from them one months’ rent (not to exceed $1,000) if they find that fake disability documentation was used to enable people with a service or assistance animal to live in rental units with no-pet policies, reports media site The Jamestown Sun.

The bill also amends the North Dakota Century Code to say that the medical professional who provides documentation supporting the need for a service or assistance animal must not operate primarily to provide certification for service or assistance animals, according to the report.

House Bill 1272, introduced by Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, if passed, could be challenged by federal law through the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“There’s no problem with accommodating people who have a legitimate need for a service or assistance animal,” Koppelman tells The Jamestown Sun. “We have every intention of honoring that, but people who abuse it undermine that need.”

“This is the first I’ve heard of giving the owner the ability to evict or entitlement to one month’s rent,” Nicole Upano, Manager, Government Affairs, NAA, says. “In the last few years, policymakers have considered proposals that typically allow for civil or criminal penalties and fines for misrepresenting an animal as an assistance animal for the purposes of obtaining relief under the law. This approach, recently enacted by the Florida legislature, acts as a deterrent.”

Colorado, Virginia, Texas and Indiana also are active on this topic:

  • In June 2016, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 16-1426 into law. Similar to a Florida law enacted in 2015, HB 16-1426 makes it a crime for any person to intentionally misrepresent the entitlement to an assistance animal, and to intentionally misrepresent that an animal in the person’s possession is a “service animal” or a “service animal in training.” According to the law, a patient/resident seeking an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation must be diagnosed by a medical or mental health professional licensed by the state. The medical or mental health professional must make a written finding that the patient has a disability, then produce a separate written finding that the patient’s need for an assistance animal is related to their disability. The Colorado Apartment Association (CAA) remains concerned that the new state law is inconsistent with the federal Fair Housing Act’s (FHA) requirements for reasonable accommodation and is advising its members accordingly.
  • At VAMA’s request, the Virginia Housing Commission took up the issue of fraudulent requests for accommodation of assistance animals during this year’s legislative interim after members reported a significant spike in prospective tenants claiming disabilities and presenting verification from out-of-state, online services to circumvent no-pet policies, or pet rent, deposits and other associated fees.  After numerous meetings with all affected stakeholders, consensus legislation was introduced.  The bills outline the process for responding to requests for accommodation of an assistive animal in accordance with federal law and guidance and stipulate that the person serving as the verifier of a disability must have a “therapeutic relationship” with the prospective tenant requesting accommodation. VAMA spent numerous hours during session working with the Office of the Attorney General to address issues of consistency raised by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). As a practice, however, HUD does not provide any input into the development of state legislation until after it has been adopted. A ruling of substantial equivalency is therefore still pending. To address this, an enactment clause was placed on the bill to render any provisions unenforceable that might be deemed inconsistent in HUD’s review to avoid Virginia being out of compliance and subject to loss of funding or other punitive action. On the strength of unanimous votes in both the House and Senate, the two bills have been sent to the Governor’s desk for action prior to the April 5 veto session and will become effective July 1, 2017, unless vetoed or amended by the Governor.
  • Currently state law in Texas prohibits misrepresentation of a service animal in public accommodations as a misdemeanor. The Texas Apartment Association (TAA) is looking at amending the Human Resources Code, Ch. 121, to expand this prohibition to also cover assistance animals in rental housing. This misdemeanor penalty would levy a fine of up to $300 or require up to 30 hours of community service to be served. Additionally, TAA's proposal seeks to add the definition of 'assistant animal' and clarify the definition of 'service animal' as stated in current Texas law. This language would fall in line with applicable federal law. TAA continues to work with bill sponsors as the proposal moves through the bill drafting process.
  • State Senator Jean Leising introduced SB 293 this year in the Indiana General Assembly. The bill urges the legislative council to assign to the interim study committee on agriculture and natural resources or another appropriate interim study committee the topics of: (1) federal and state law concerning service and assistance animals; and (2) the permissible uses of service and assistance animals, including emotional support animals and therapy animals, in public accommodations. The Indiana Apartment Association remains concerned about the proposal.  While the Indiana Apartment Association continues to work with an attorney to draft language that addresses their members’ concerns on emotional support animals, staff is using this legislative session as an opportunity to educate legislators and to help them understand the need for future legislation.

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