For years, co-op and condo boards that adopted no-pet policies kept getting bitten by an inconvenient fact of life: a cottage industry had sprung up to provide pet owners with dubious certification of a medical or psychological condition – and an accompanying need for an emotional support animal. At one such website, a pet owner simply fills out a short questionnaire, pays the $159 fee – and a therapist provides the required certification by email, no doctor’s visit required. For an additional $40, the pet owner can buy an Emotional Support Animal vest that gives any pet a whiff of authenticity.
Fearing costly discrimination lawsuits, many boards have grudgingly allowed these people to keep pets in their “pet-free” buildings. Responding to the laments of these boards, Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed a law that makes it illegal to knowingly apply a false or improper identification tag designating a service, emotional support, or therapy animal to enable the animal to accompany its owner into places of public accommodation and other venues. Violators face a fine of up to $100, jail time of up to 15 days, or both. (Service animals, such as seeing-eye dogs, require training; emotional support animals do not.)
The new law means that co-op and condo boards are entitled to more comprehensive proof of a resident’s need for an emotional support animal. Attorneys at Gallet, Dreyer & Berkey say boards may ask for reliable documentation from the resident’s medical provider, explaining that the resident suffers from a physical or mental impairment that substantially impedes at least one major life activity – and also explaining how the animal ameliorates the effects of the impairment.
But there are limits, the lawyers advise. Boards may not inquire about the nature of a disability, a specific diagnosis, or dates of treatment. And remember: a board must address the presence of a pet in a no-pet building within three months that it is first noticed on the property – or the pet can stay “till death us do part.”