Safeguarding Against Fraudulent Service Animal Claims in Colorado

May 24, 2018 | Bill Henry

For Colorado landlords, it has become all too common for tenants to skirt paying pet rent or overcome provisions against having pets by furnishing service animal certificates. With these certifications becoming more prevalent due to easy online applications, a landlord must equip themselves with basic knowledge of rules and regulations to better decipher phonies. Below is some basic information from our lawyers on how to safeguard against fraudulent service animal claims:

picture of Service Dog
Emotional Support Animal vs Service Animal

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is trained to perform tasks directly related to a person’s disability. Unlike physical disabilities, psychological disabilities and the purpose of an emotional support animal, are not always as obvious. Instead of performing tasks, an emotional support animal provides companionship for those who suffer from anxiety and depression. Unlike restrictions to service animal breeds (dogs and miniature horses), emotional support animals can range from dogs and cats to rabbits and birds. Additionally, the lack of accreditation requirements by the ADA for service and therapy dogs has arguably led to service animal fraud, which is on the rise in Colorado. Despite these differences, both types of animals are protected under Federal Housing Authority (FHA) statute and are not considered to be pets or subject to pet fees. So how can you tell if it’s a fake? Read on!

Landlords Can Ask for Evidence to Support a Claim of Disability
To obtain a service animal, a person will usually have to get a recommendation from their medical professional. To rule out a fake, a landlord can ask the tenant to show supporting documentation of their need for a service animal. A letter from a healthcare provider, such as a doctor, or a mental health specialist will suffice. A landlord cannot ask any details concerning the person’s disability but they can ask a health professional if a disability is present, and if a service animal is needed. Note of caution: beware of service animal certificates, like those issued by National Service Animal Registry, as these are easily procurable by anyone on the internet, and should not be considered sufficient evidence.

Comply with reasonable accommodation rules

The FHA offers protection for those with disabilities by prohibiting a landlord to refuse “reasonable accommodation” – so that disabled persons have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. A landlord should be weary of discriminating against those with service/therapy animals as they are protected under this ruling. However, the ruling also states that the request cannot put an excessive financial or administrative burden on the landlord, nor can it fundamentally alter the nature of the housing. Allowing the animal itself is not considered to be an undue burden, nevertheless, if the landlord can prove that the animal is particularly disruptive or a threat to the other tenants, then the landlord may be justified in refusing accommodation or pursuing an eviction.

While Colorado is attempting to combat service animal fraud by making it illegal to impersonate a disabled person, it can still be difficult for landlords to tell the difference. This problem, coupled with FHA protections for disabled persons may intimidate some landlords into just accepting the animal for fear of reprisal.

If you suspect fraud, it is highly recommended to seek legal advice before refusing accommodation. A lawyer can make sure a substantial case exists and act as a safeguard against legal ramifications if a court found the landlord to be violating FHA regulations.

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