New Wyoming law bans misrepresenting service dogs

There’s an elephant in the room, and it’s wearing a bedazzled service animal vest.

As companies pop up to market official-looking ‘service animal’ vests, some people are abusing laws created to allow reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.

Both disability rights and ‘pet‘ advocates know this is wrong, and fraud is offensive to many individuals and groups, including housing providers.

Here comes the disclaimer:

The fact that some people abuse this law does not mean you should deny a request for reasonable accommodation.

A wise civil rights defense attorney (who represents landlords and property managers) once said that the safest response to any reasonable accommodation request is the following:

“We consider all requests for reasonable accommodation.” 

Considering a request is neither granting nor denying it; it simply means what it says, that you (and preferably your own fair housing or civil rights defense attorney) will evaluate the request in a timely fashion before making a determination. A hasty or poorly informed decision can be costly.

Denying an accommodation can also be devastating to the person who really needs it.

For someone with a hearing or visual impairment, a trained service animal can mean the difference between life and death or independence and isolation. For someone with depression, anxiety or PTSD, an emotional support animal can offer a reason to get out of bed or the ability to face the world. There is an important distinction between these terms, but either can be part of a legitimate reasonable accommodation request.

Learn more about them below:

Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals: Where are they allowed and under what conditions?

Real-life scenario. Several years ago, an Idaho landlord called a local organization to ask for a definition of a service animal after a prospective tenant requested an accommodation. He was referred to the ADA definition, which states that the animal is ‘specifically trained to perform a task for the person with a disability.’ He decided that, in his opinion, the animal hadn’t received any special training, and subsequently denied the request.

What he didn’t understand was that the request was for a support animal; because he failed to make a distinction, he asked for and received a definition for a service animal. Although the definitions for emotional support animals were on the same page, he limited his focus to service animals.

And yes, he received a fair housing complaint.

Fraud in this area makes life difficult for everyone, including landlords and property managers, retailers, restaurants and transportation providers. Some people play fast and loose with the law, because abusers know that in most cases they will go unchallenged, and it’s a simple matter to find a ‘third-party professional’ to sign a letter stating the need to take a beloved pet anywhere and everywhere.

Some advocates don’t like to talk about fraud, but denying its existence only further frustrates housing providers—many of whom work hard to comply with fair housing law and simply want to be treated fairly in return.

For the past 20 years, this topic has dominated fair housing training, conferences and court cases in Idaho and elsewhere. Most recently this spring it has been covered by the Intermountain Fair Housing Council and at the Idaho Apartment Association trade show, during a panel discussion titled “Fair Housing Horror Stories.”

The challenge facing everyone—housing providers, advocates and persons living with disability—is to agree on policies that are fair, accountable and defensible. Even service dog owners want to see tougher restrictions. As seen in the following article, they aren’t alone in their frustration over abuse of the law, no matter how rare it might be.

Excerpt from the  via US News:

On July 1, Wyoming will become the 16th state in the nation to enact laws relating to misrepresenting service animals. House Bill 114 makes doing so a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a fine up to $750.

“This bill was made in an effort to try to protect those that truly do need the protection, and try to detour those who don’t,” said Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, the bill’s lead sponsor.

To read the full article, click link below:

New Wyoming Law Bans Misrepresenting Service Dogs

Webinar: Service Animals under the Fair Housing Act & the Americans with Disabilities Act. December 10

Webinar Speakers

Zoe Ann Olson – Intermountain Fair Housing Council

Miranda Levy, MA, CRC – Northwest ADA Center

Date

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Time

10:00-11:30am

Cost

$45 per site

There is much confusion about the differences between the rules and regulations regarding service and assistance animals when it comes to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). This comes from the significant similarities between these pieces of legislation, as well as the tremendous differences.

During this 90 minute webinar, Miranda will apply the ADA law to the topic of service animals, while Zoe Ann will discuss service animals under the FHA. Both speakers will point out comparisons throughout the presentation, and ample time will be left for questions.

Participants have the option of obtaining 1.5 CRCC credits or a Letter of Attendance.

For questions about course content or registration, please contact:

Miranda Levy / e-mail:  levym@uw.edu / phone:  (425) 774-2303

For more information about course content, please contact:

Zoe Ann Olson / e-mail:  zolson@ifhcidaho.org / phone:  (208) 383-0695

Click here to learn more or to register.

FHEO Notice on Service and Assistance Animals and Reasonable Accommodations

HUD No. 13-060A
Shantae Goodloe
(202) 708-0685

FOR RELEASE
Tuesday
April 30, 2013

HUD ISSUES NOTICE ON ASSISTANCE ANIMALS AND REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

Click here to read HUD’s new notice.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today issued a notice reaffirming that housing providers must provide reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities who require assistance animals.  The “Notice on Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs” discusses how the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) intersect regarding the use of service or assistance animals by persons with disabilities. Continue reading