Beware of the "Service Dog Scam"

It's no secret that the Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.   An community association thus must make a "reasonable accommodation" to a disabled current or prospective resident who requires that accommodation to "use and enjoy a dwelling".

We've recently been contacted about homeowners in resident owned communities claiming that their animals are "service animals".   One association is currently dealing with a unit owner who had previously been allowed to have a dog in her home as a reasonable accommodation even though this ROC was a "no pet" community.   This unit owner apparently has replaced that dog with another dog and is alleging that this new dog is a "service dog," and can be walked throughout the community, even though the reasonable accommodation granted to the unit owner was conditioned on the dog remaining on the unit owner's lot while in the community.

The unit owner provided the manager with "Service Dog Paper Work" that included an "identification card" for the pet stating "I'm a Service Dog In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990".  Another card identified the dog by name, date of birth, registration number, and "handler" (identified by the unit owner's last name).

Becoming a "service animal" requires much more than a few papers, cards, or other items provided by companies gladly accepting the $150 (or more) from pet owners who want to "identify their canine helper" as a "service dog".

Here's what the U.S. Department of Justice has to say about "service animals" as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act:

  • Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities--miniature horses are the only other animals that can qualify as "service animals"
  • Service animals are working animals, not pets
  • The work or task a dog has been trained to perform must be directly related to the person's disability
  • Finally, dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act

In other words, the documents provided by these companies do not--without more evidence--prove that a pet qualifies as a "service animal".

Florida Statute Section 413.08 defines "service animal" and does not specifically prohibit species other than dogs or miniature ponies from qualifying as "service animals" but does require that the animal be trained to perform tasks for individuals with a disability and also specifies that a service animal is not a pet.

We've determined that the company that provided this unit owner with the "service animal certification kit" for her pet was not affiliated with the U.S. Department of Justice or any governmental agency charged with enforcing the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Any association confronted with these "service animal" papers should contact its attorney immediately--and any unit owner that has paid for these documents should strongly consider contacting the Federal Trade Commission.

I'd like to hear from other communities that have been confronted with these "service dog" certification papers.

 

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