On October 24, 2018, the Pennsylvania State Legislature passed Act 118, known as the Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act (“ASAIA”). This law, which went into effect on December 24, 2018, is aimed at preventing residents living in apartment building communities and homeowners associations from committing fraud in claiming that their pet is a service or assistance animal when in fact the residents do not have a disability, and keeping the animal would otherwise be a violation of their lease or homeowners association rules.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Fair Housing Act (FHA), Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA), Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), and the Rehabilitation Act permit individuals with disabilities (mental and/or physical) to be accompanied by animals in places where animals are not usually permitted, such as homes, airplanes, public buildings, etc.
While these federal laws were well-intentioned and assist the disabled, many landlords, homeowner associations, and manufactured housing communities struggle with enforcement of their pet restrictions when residents commit fraud. Individuals are increasingly claiming that their pet is for service or assistance, but these individuals do not have a disability and simply want a house pet, where the existing rules do not permit it. A growing area of concern is the lack of regulation regarding the documentation needed to support a claimed need for an emotional support or assistance animal. The ASAIA addresses some, but not all, of these concerns.
The ASAIA defines an “assistance animal” as an animal other than a service animal (which has different definitions and criteria) that qualifies for a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, or local law. It specifically includes emotional support animals within this definition. The ASAIA authorizes landlords and/or the executive board of the homeowners association to request written documentation of both the disability and the related need for the assistance animal, provided the disability and/or the need is/are not readily apparent. In this regard, the ASAIA mirrors the requirements under the FHA and FHAA.
Prior to passage of the ASAIA, landlords and homeowners associations could request verification of a service or assistance animal as well as medical documentation of the disability-related need. ASAIA takes verification one step further and imposes criminal penalties for those who:
Criminal penalties may be imposed as follows:
Federal laws pertaining to requests for reasonable accommodation requests do not require animals to be trained or certified. Also, under the ASAIA, there is no regulation as to what species or kinds of animals may or may not function as emotional support or assistance animals, nor does the ASAIA take steps to define how an animal can become an emotional support or assistance animal. However, ASAIA does provide landlords and homeowners associations with immunity from liability for injuries caused by an individual’s assistance or service animal permitted on the landlord’s property as a reasonable accommodation. Specifically, the ASAIA provides that the landlord and/or executive board of the homeowners association will not be liable for any injury or property damage caused by an assistance or support animal that is allowed in or within the property, provided the animal qualifies for a reasonable accommodation under the applicable federal, state, or local laws. Thus, the ASAIA potentially offers some protection to landlords and homeowners associations that are compelled to permit animals on a property that would otherwise be lawfully excluded.
See attached link to read the full text of Pennsylvania’s Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act.
The information in this Client Alert is provided solely for information purposes. It should not be construed as legal advice on any specific matter and is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based upon particular circumstances. Each legal matter is unique, and prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.
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