Gallet Dreyer & Berkey, LLP | Service Animals and the “No Dog” Building
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Service Animals and the “No Dog” Building

7/11/18 | By: Michelle P. Quinn | GDB 2018 Summer Newsletter
People love their pets.  They are considered family to some.  They are an absolute necessity to others.  Service animals are specially trained to perform or assist in a specific life function for their owners (for example, dogs who help the visually impaired or warn of an impending epileptic seizure).  Yet the proliferation of online websites that sell “service animal certification kits” in order to allow non-service animals access to public places has led to recent legislation intended to curb the abuse.

New State Law

A new law signed by New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on December 18, 2017 makes it unlawful to knowingly apply a false or improper identification tag designating a service, emotional support, or therapy dog to enable the animal to accompany its owner into places of public accommodation and other venues.  Violators face a fine of up to $100, jail time of up to 15 days, or both. 

What Does This Law Mean For Apartment, Condominium And Cooperative Buildings?

A landlord, condominium board, or cooperative board is entitled to - and should - demand more comprehensive proof as to the need for and the validity of the service animal. While the permitted inquiry into a tenant’s need for a service animal is limited by privacy rights, a landlord or board may ask for reliable documentation from the tenant’s medical provider explaining that the tenant suffers from a physical or mental impairment that substantially impedes at least one major life activity, and an explanation of how the animal ameliorates the effects of the impairment.  A landlord or board may not inquire about a specific diagnosis or dates of treatment.  A tenant who offers only “service animal credentials” should be pushed further, as these documents are too easily obtained to be reliable proof.  Landlords and boards are cautioned, however, to ask only if the animal is required due to a disability, and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform.  They may not inquire about the nature of the person's disability.
The new law begins to address problems when occupants try to keep their family pet in their “no-dog” building by abusing laws designed to protect those with special needs. One technique to detect abuses is the installation of cameras in common areas to see the interaction between the owner and the “service” pet (e.g. is the dog tugging at the leash, is the owner frequently leaving the building without the pet, etc.), which has an added benefit of increased safety and security.  Landlords and boards of “no-dog” buildings are encouraged to be vigilant and cautiously inquisitive of those tenants who claim to have a service animal, as the presence of a dog in a “no-dog” building must be addressed within three months of the first notice of its appearance in the building, or the ability to do so will be forever lost.