Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Upending Of "No-Pet" Policies By Tenants' "Emotional Support Animal" Requests: "What Was A Drip, Drip, Drip Is Now A Flood," Says One Attorney Representing Penalty-Fearing Landlords

In New York City, DNAInfo New York reports:
  • [T]he number of requests for emotional support animals — or ESAs — in pet-free buildings has ballooned over the past few years, lawyers and brokers said. Landlords are fearful of potentially hefty fines if they contest a pet’s presence while residents are now feeling more emboldened.

    It’s become a bigger issue as websites now make it as easy to become licensed for an emotional support animal as it is to become a minister to officiate your friends’ wedding, many say.

    A few sites, for instance, promise an ESA letter from a registered therapist within 72 hours of completing a phone interview. They only require you to pay $125 if you meet the diagnosis of such emotional disabilities as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, personality disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Another — which costs $140 for a letter with an additional $49.50 for overnight shipping — states that if you qualify, “you will then be given your prescription letter which allows you to fly with your ESA, and live in housing where pets are typically not permitted.”

    Real estate attorney Sherwin Belkin, of Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman, said he gets multiple calls every week from landlords across the city asking how to field requests for emotional support animals.

    "What was a drip, drip, drip is now a flood,” he said.

    A tenant at a Midtown East building, for instance, recently got the go-ahead for an emotional support animal — after a lot of “back-and-forth” with the landlord — and within two weeks, two more tenants from the building submitted requests for such animals, Belkin said.

    “If a tenant comes forward with what seems like a legitimate reason, the owner has to consent. You’re not allowed to make deep inquiries because it’s considered a violation of privacy,” Belkin said, also noting that under the city’s pet laws, a landlord can’t do anything about a pet if the landlord knew or should have known about the animal living in the building but failed to take action for 90 days.

    Belkin — himself a dog owner — said he was unaware of the ESA evaluation letter websites until a few weeks ago when he started poking around.

    He was surprised by the ease with which one could possibly be obtained.

    “It struck me that these questions are intended to be as coverall as going to the daily newspaper and reading your horoscope. They’ll apply to everybody,” he said. “This has now created a significant problem in buildings, which is far beyond what anyone intended in creating the category of ESA.”

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