SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — New South Dakota legislation will allow landlords to evict or fine tenants who fake a disability or provide false documentation to keep a pet in their rental unit.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed into law this month a bill intended to prevent tenants from lying about medical conditions and claiming they have an emotional support animal. The law takes effect July 1, the Argus Leader reported.
A loophole in current law allows tenants to keep miniature horses, snakes and chickens as support animals, said Amy Miller, president of Charisma Property Management.
“It’s a huge problem,” Miller said. “Nobody wants to get sued so nobody’s pressing it.”
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act describes trained animals but not specifically therapy or emotional support animals. The language means that landlords can’t deny tenants from living with the animals.
But state law didn’t distinguish service or therapy animals either, so landlords often choose to allow them in order to avoid lawsuits.
“It goes unquestioned because (the law is) so ambiguous that unfortunately, I think landlords get taken advantage of,” said Paul Gourley, chair of the South Dakota Multi-Housing Association. “There’s a loophole in the system that needs to be corrected.”
The new law says landlords can request that tenants whose disability or health condition isn’t “readily apparent” provide a doctor’s note affirming their need for the service or emotional support animal.
University of South Dakota student Taiya Bunde has a support cat named Snuggles that she keeps in her off-campus apartment. Bunde’s psychiatrist approved Snuggles as an emotional therapy animal. The 21-year-old said she hopes “that people don’t abuse it and ruin for those that need it.”