The popularity of pet-friendly apartments has led to development of dubious services on the Internet designed to get owners out of paying high pet fees. The services allow people to obtain phony dog service certification deeming the animal an “emotional support pet,” a designation that not only exempts owners from pet fees but often grants the animal access to rentals that are not pet friendly.
The problem with such efforts is they are sparking more scrutiny from landlords and more calls for increased regulation on issuing emotional support pet certification, which ultimately may make it difficult for people who legitimately need it.
Many of the dubious services have online “therapists” who provide documentation that an emotional support pet is needed. Many provide the “doctor’s note” within 24 hours. As I was looking at some of these websites, one was summoning me to register a pet with them via a pop up. They are very persistent. These services provide a method for people to avoid pet fees and a way to have a pet in a residence that does not allow pets. Pet rents range from $25 to $75 monthly and up front pet fees range from $250 to $1,000 on average per pet.
Emotional support pets are companion animals that provide a therapeutic benefit to individuals with a verifiable mental or psychiatric disability. Emotional support pets are one type of assistance animal, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. An emotional support pet can be any type of animal and is allowed as a reasonable accommodation in a residence that does not otherwise allow pets. This allows dogs, cats, alligators, any type of pet at all with no restriction. You do not have to pay pet fees to a landlord for an emotional support pet.
The difference between an emotional support animal and a service animal is a service animal is trained to perform certain tasks to help people with disabilities, while an emotional support pet is not trained. Unlike service animals, an emotional support pet is not granted access to public places such as movie theaters and hospitals.
HUD does not require a tenant to disclose their disability to a prospective landlord, but they will need to provide documentation from a doctor or other health care professional that the assistance animal lessens one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of an existing disability.
A companion animal can also travel with their person in the cabin of a plane, as allowed by the Air Carrier Access Act, without fees. Typically, the fee to have a pet fly is about $125.
The Transportation Department formed a panel of advisers to look into the issue. Airlines are concerned about the safety of the passengers around the untrained animals and want to know whether their owners legitimately need them for emotional support or are just trying to avoid a fee. The panel was disbanded without a solution, experts say, but with the increase of animals on flights this is bound to come up again.
There is no standardized form that can be used to prove an emotional support pet’s status. The increase in people fraudulently identifying their pets as assistance animals has led to a consideration of more regulations for identifying an assistance animal.
An online petition being circulated through Change.org is asking Anna Maria Farias, HUD’s assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, to reform laws surrounding emotional support animals. While supporting people who legitimately need comfort animals, the petition wants the government to stop allowing owners to get doctors’ notes for emotional support pets online for a fee. The petition asserts these online methods are not credible.
More regulation is needed to prevent people from falsely claiming their pets as companion animals. Let’s hope the regulations will not hinder the process for people who have a legitimate need for an emotional support pet.