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It Is Possible to Ban Bogus Support Dogs

Kathleen Lucadamo in Building Operations on February 18, 2016

New York City

Support Pets
Feb. 18, 2016

How far should a condo or co-op board go to accommodate a depressed resident who counts on a therapy dog to keep her on an even keel? And how does a board ascertain if a request from a disabled resident is legitimate?
A clinician is supposed to provide a letter to the board explaining why a disabled person needs the dog in order to live happily. But people have been known to fake a diagnosis of mental disability, or get a mail-order diagnosis so they can keep their pet.
The board can’t legally say no to a therapy dog, but it can challenge the need, says attorney Darryl Vernon, a partner with Vernon & Ginsburg. The co-op can contend that the doctor’s note is vague (a polite way of calling it bogus). But be warned: if a board denies the application, the person can file a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights and the New York State Division of Human Rights. Both agencies will hold hearings to determine if the person was wrongly denied.
There are other exemptions. The New York City Health Department issues tags for service dogs, such as those that are used by the blind or deaf. But that also raises complicated issues. If a blind man with a seeing-eye dog applies to a pet-free co-op, discrimination laws forbid boards from rejecting him because of the dog. How do you deal with that? It’s a tough one – and your only option may be to try to live with the seeing-eye dog.
Even if pets receive a therapy exemption, however, they still can’t be a nuisance to neighbors. That is defined in most leases as “repeated and ongoing behavior that alters the neighbors’ ability to live in their homes safely and comfortably.” This may include loud barking, urinating in public areas of the building, or producing foul odors. Often, the behavior can be treated with training. Katy Hansen, of the Animal Care Centers of New York City, says, “A lot of people may not realize that barking goes on when they’re not home. It’s a form of separation anxiety and it can be easily treated.”

But don’t expect anything to be easy when your board tries to regulate support pets.

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