By: Steve Williams
On October 24, 2018, Governor Wolf signed into law the Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act, Act 118-2018 (House Bill 2049), which takes effect on December 23, 2018. The Act is designed to assist landlords and condominium and homeowner associations (associations) who have no pet policies, or policies that limit pets, in evaluating a resident’s claim that he or she requires an assistance or service animal (which by law are not “pets”) as an accommodation to a disability. The Act recognizes the struggles that landlords and associations have faced recently in dealing with fraudulent requests by residents who are not disabled but simply want to avoid having to comply with pet rules.
The Act defines an assistance animal as an animal, other than a service animal, that qualifies as a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, or local law, and includes emotional support animals. Under the Act, a service animal is an animal, other than an assistance animal, that qualifies as a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act or as a guide or support animal under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act or local law.
Importantly, the Act accomplishes three things:
- It confirms that landlords and associations are entitled to ask for written verification of a resident’s disability and disability-related need for an assistance or service animal (unless the disability or need is obvious).
- It requires that the person verifying the disability or disability-related need for the animal must have “direct knowledge of the person’s disability and disability-related need for the assistance animal or service animal.” This requirement should reduce the number of fraudulent internet verification forms that are currently presented to landlords and associations.
- It creates criminal penalties for violations of the Act by residents and their verifiers. Specifically, the Act provides that a person who misrepresents a disability or need for an assistance or service animal commits a misdemeanor of the third degree, which is punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. A verifier who misrepresents an animal as being a service or assistance animal commits a summary offense, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.
When residents who do not have a legitimate need for an assistance or service animal and fraudulently state that they do, it creates burdens for landlords, associations, and disabled residents who do need assistance or service animals. It is hoped that the enactment of Act 118 will limit the number of false requests, allowing landlords and associations to focus on legitimate requests by disabled residents.
We suggest that landlords and associations revise their current reasonable accommodation request forms to include information regarding Act 118.