Beware of False Service Animals


 One of the most effective public policy campaigns of the last few decades has been the one that taught us not to park in spaces reserved for the disabled.


A combination of robust public education and stiff penalties has helped make it universally understood that able-bodied persons should avoid parking cars there.


A newer push is underway to curb the growing practice of people passing their pets off as service animals. While most people associate the conflicts this practice presents with access to business - particularly restaurants - landlords are also increasingly impacted.


It’s not hard to see why so many people find it easy to commit this kind of self-serving fraud. The federal regulations governing the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by animals are murky. Three different federal laws govern this space and the result is an array of confusing and conflicting regulations. 


One thing all the federal laws have in common: no certificates or proof of training is required, only the word of the potential tenant.


Many states have stepped into this void by enacting stricter rules. To date, twenty states have passed anti-fraud measures. Of those, sixteen make misrepresenting a service animal a misdemeanor or petty offense punishable by fines, jail time, and/or community service.


The states that have passed laws are California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.


The growing trend in service animal fraud can make it more difficult for people with true disabilities to gain access to places they need to go. 


Property investors may see an increase in renters trying to claim service animal status for their pet. With state legislatures and courts actively settling issues regarding the rights of those with emotional, therapy, or comfort animals, many people may seek to call their pets service animals. 


REIAs in states that have not enacted service animal fraud laws have an opportunity to build new partnerships with disability groups to form a coalition in support of such laws. 


Seek out your state and local disability rights organizations, as well as any organizations representing service dog trainers. Look for training businesses or groups accredited by Assistance Dogs International, a service dog standards group. These groups have an interest in protecting the integrity of service animal status and can be valuable allies in getting laws passed in your state.


If you do plan to propose a law in your state and want to know the different ways you can craft it, a review of the various state laws on this subject can be found here:


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