Civil Rights, Housing, Reasonable Accommodation

Renters, don’t falsify your pit bull as a ‘service animal’ in Oklahoma

From Richard Maze at

Paid-for “certification” of service animals — bought online or anywhere else — never passed the smell test, and now it doesn’t pass the legal test in Oklahoma.

Deanna Fields, executive director of the Manufactured Housing Association of Oklahoma, brought a new law to my attention after I’d reported difficulties surrounding service animals, federal fair housing law and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed H.B. 3282 May 1. It goes into effect Nov. 1. The law, by Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, has received no media attention, despite recent violent dog attacks and increased scrutiny of certain breeds.

“Tenants saying their pit bulls are service animals by buying bogus certification over the internet will be assessed a penalty,” Fields said in an email. “A number of states have (or) are in the process to address this abused issue. Proud to say we got ours passed!”

She said it came thanks to “collaboration with the apartment association and our manufactured home association. It also removes liabilities for landlords, which was a huge concern even in our manufactured housing parks.”

I asked how the state law fit with the federal Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, since federal usually trumps state.

“It will have no bearing on the broad language of the ADA/Fair Housing Act,” she said. “It basically addresses bogus certification and removes liability from the landlord and can penalize the tenant for falsifying their ‘pet’ as a service animal. Enforcement is through the legal system.”

Fields added: “It’s the insurance companies that prohibit breeds that are classified as ‘dangerous’ breeds i.e., pit bulls, if the landlord wants liability insurance for his property. So to remove the liability for the service animal is a relief for the insurance companies.”

It’s a short law, as far as laws go. Here’s the whole thing (minus some technical citations):

SECTION 1.A. As used in this section, “assistance animal” means an animal that works, provides assistance or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. “Assistance animal” includes a service animal specifically trained or equipped to perform tasks for a person with a disability, or an emotional support animal that provides support to a person with a disability who has a disability-related need for such support.

SECTION 1.B. A person with a disability may submit a request for a reasonable accommodation to maintain an assistance animal in a dwelling pursuant to the Fair Housing Act … the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 … and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 … or any other federal, state or local law. Unless the person making the request has a disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal that is readily apparent, the landlord may request reliable supporting documentation that (1) is necessary to verify that the person meets the definition pursuant to the Fair Housing Act, (2) describes the needed accommodation, and (3) shows the relationship between the person’s disability and the need for the requested accommodation. The landlord may independently verify the authenticity of any supporting documentation. Supporting documentation that was acquired through purchase or exchange of funds for goods and services shall be presumed to be fraudulent supporting documentation.

SECTION 1.C. A landlord shall not be liable for injuries by a person’s assistance animal permitted on the landlord’s property as a reasonable accommodation to assist the person with a disability pursuant to the requirements of subsection B of this section.

One question, regarding the last sentence in Section 1.B.: “Supporting documentation that was acquired through purchase or exchange of funds for goods and services shall be presumed to be fraudulent supporting documentation.”

Clearly the law is aimed at fakes and frauds. But if I had a disability, and got supporting documentation from a doctor or other medical professional, wouldn’t it necessarily involve the “exchange of funds for goods and services”?

Nothing comes free — even if somebody else pays for it. Here’s hoping that’s not a loophole big enough for a fraudster’s pit bull to jump through.

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