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From the Desk of State Representative
 Dan Moul

(4/18) Once again, I am sponsoring legislation to prevent government interference in the rights of property owners. While I support the rights of individuals who are blind, physically handicapped or disabled to have specially trained and working service animals – typically dogs ! and for landlords, airlines and others to make reasonable accommodation for them, federal regulations approved in the previous administration that were not carefully thought out, now extend the same courtesies to emotional support or so-called "comfort animals," effectively permitting those who want pets to circumvent the rights of property owners to enforce their "no pet" policies.

While the federal law specifies that an emotional support animal is a type of assistance animal warranting special accommodation for a person with a disability, the law also insists that assistance animals are not pets. Yet, an increasing number of people are fraudulently claiming their animal is for service or assistance, when in fact, the individuals do not have a disability and simply want a house pet. This creates a dilemma for landlords, homeowner associations and manufactured housing communities that struggle to be fair and reasonable to tenants with demonstrated disabilities, while protecting their property rights and the health, safety and comfort of other tenants and the community at large.

One shortcoming in the law is that it does not specify what constitutes an emotional support or comfort animal. Imagine snakes, rats or farm animals living in the unit next to you, or five wild tigers, as a woman in California attempted to do? Fortunately, in the latter case, the court ruled that her desire to own the tigers did not trump her neighbors’ right to safety and peace of mind.

Occasionally common sense does prevail, but these examples show how open-ended the law is and how one person’s "comfort" could negatively impact others. It also interferes with a property owner’s right to determine what is acceptable on his or her property and needlessly subjects them to the potential for property damage and liability.

Current law enables property owners to request verification of a service or assistance animal, as well as medical documentation of the disability-related need. However, I have already witnessed the abuse of this law and am therefore sponsoring legislation to establish the Pennsylvania Assistance and Service Animal Integrity Act. In addition to written documentation of a person’s disability or disability-related need for an assistance or service animal by a medical or mental health clinician with reliable and direct knowledge, House Bill 2049 also clarifies the difference between a "service animal" and an "assistance animal," and imposes penalties for those who misrepresent themselves as disabled or misrepresent their animal as an assistance or service animal.

Under my bill, misrepresentation of entitlement to assistance or service animal would be a misdemeanor of the third degree, and misrepresentation of an animal as an assistance or service animal would be a summary offense carrying a fine of up to $1,000. My bill would also provide landlords with immunity from liability for injuries caused by a tenant’s assistance or service animal permitted on the property as a reasonable accommodation.

House Bill 2049 was recently voted out of the House Urban Affairs Committee and sent to the full House where I am anticipating widespread support. I am hopeful my bill will reach the Senate for consideration in the coming weeks.

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