Many property owners know they're being scammed, but feel helpless when it comes to assistance animal regulations.
Jose Juancastaneda works at Outlook Nebraska Inc. with the help of his seeing eye dog, Bronco.
"A service animal provides a service like a seeing eye dog," said Paul Vojchehoske, author of "The Landlord's Success Book" and "Renter's Rights: For Nebraska Tenants." "An emotional support animal is someone who may have mental illness or someone with mental health issues."
Vojchehoske is aware of an emerging issue where some renters may be gaming the system to avoid regulations that apply to pets. "There is a growing trend of people that are taking advantage of the, I hate to say it, how loosely the regulation is written," said Vojchehoske.
Channel Six called the Department of Justice about the American's with Disabilities Act. Their hotline confirms that no certification is necessary for an animal to become a service or emotional animal.
Many people with animals, especially dogs and cats are turned away from rental properties that don't allow pets. Vojchehoske said that someone could get around a 'no pet policy' by having a reliable third party write a note stipulating that the person needs the animal for emotional assistance.
"The industry will very rarely question the validity out of the fear that there is going to be a complaint that is filed," said Vojchehoske. "There could be thousands, and thousands of dollars in legal fees just to defend a legitimate 'no.'"
Juancastaneda has a message for those who are cheating the system. "Quit doing it because you are really hurting the people that really need," said Juancastaneda.
Service and emotional animal regulations are part of the Fair Housing and American's with Disabilities Acts. The Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are jointly responsible for enforcing the Fair Housing Act. Assistance animal regulations fall under Reasonable Accommodations.
For more information, visit http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/library/huddojstatement.pdf
Below is an exerpt from that link:
18. If a disability is not obvious, what kinds of information may a housing provider request from the person with a disability in support of a requested accommodation?
A housing provider may not ordinarily inquire as to the nature and severity of an individual's disability (see Answer 16, above). However, in response to a request for a reasonable accommodation, a housing provider may request reliable disability-related information that (1) is necessary to verify that the person meets the Act's definition of disability (i.e., has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities), (2) describes the needed accommodation, and (3) shows the relationship between the person's disability and the need for the requested accommodation. Depending on the individual's circumstances, information verifying that the person meets the Act's definition of disability can usually be provided by the individual himself or herself (e.g., proof that an individual under 65 years of age receives Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits10 or a credible statement by the individual). A doctor or other medical professional, a peer support group, a non-medical service agency, or a reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual's disability may also provide verification of a disability. In most cases, an individual's medical records or detailed information about the nature of a person's disability is not necessary for this inquiry. Once a housing provider has established that a person meets the Act's definition of disability, the provider's request for documentation should seek only the information that is necessary to evaluate if the reasonable accommodation is needed because of a disability. Such information must be kept confidential and must not be shared with other persons unless they need the information to make or assess a decision to grant or deny a reasonable accommodation request or unless disclosure is required by law (e.g., a court-issued subpoena requiring disclosure).