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Fibbing about Fido to skirt a ‘no pets’ policy? Bill would make it illegal

You’ve found a great apartment, and can’t wait to move in. But the building has a no pets policy, so Fido isn’t welcome.

What to do?

The answer for some pet owners is to go online, pay a few bucks, and get a certificate declaring Fido to be an emotional support animal. And voila, now you and Fido can enjoy your home sweet home together.

That’s not right, says Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood), and an abuse of the “reasonable accommodation” clause in the federal Fair Housing Act.

Fischer sponsors HF566 that would permit landlords to deny a tenant’s rental application, or not approve the accommodation for a service or support animal, if the animal’s certification is not issued by a “licensed professional.”

House judiciary panel approves HF566 02/18/21

By a 17-0 vote, the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee approved the bill Thursday and sent it to the House Housing Finance and Policy Committee. The companion, SF529, sponsored by Sen. Zach Duckworth (R-Lakeville), awaits action by the Senate Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee.

The bill would allow a landlord to request supporting documentation from a licensed professional verifying the disability when a tenant makes a reasonable accommodation request for a service or support animal.

Seven types of licensed professionals could issue valid certifications: physicians, physician assistants, nurses, psychologists, mental health professionals, counselors, and social workers.

Ron Elwood, staff attorney at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, said the bill “strikes the absolute appropriate balance of ensuring that documentation in these situations is legitimate … at the same time preserving and protecting the rights of Minnesotans with disabilities.”

A landlord could not charge additional fees or rent for a service or support animal, nor could they request written documentation when the tenant or prospective tenant has a readily apparent disability.

Leanna Stefaniak, chief real estate officer and general counsel with At Home Apartments in St. Paul, said the purpose of the bill is to “curtail the boutique industry” of fraudulent certifications that can be obtained online by answering a few cursory questions and paying about $100.

Stefaniak said language in the bill is modeled on 2020 guidance from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The bill would make it illegal to misrepresent that an animal is a service or support animal and provide fraudulent documents to that appearance.

A 2018 law made it a crime to knowingly misrepresent an animal in one’s possession as an assistance animal in a public place to obtain rights or privileges available to someone who qualifies for a service animal under state or federal law. 

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