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Emotional Support Animals in Co-ops and Condos

Real Estate Legality

A number of co-ops and condos in New York have strict no-pets policy, yet buildings are required by federal, state and local laws to permit emotional support animals. Pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, individuals with disabilities are permitted to bring their service animals into public accommodations, which under New York law encompasses public and private housing accommodations.

As a service animal’s purpose is to guide the blind or detect seizures, the use of emotional service animals is more expansive and they do not have to be formally trained like service animals. The term ‘disability’ has been broadly defined, which has allowed individuals with various mental and physical conditions to obtain permission to keep an emotional support animal. “Serious depression, chronic pain, AIDS, autism, dementia, cancer and heart disease are just some of the illnesses lawyers say can qualify as disabilities.”[1]

Companies are taking advantage of the trend for emotional support animals by offering emotional support animal recommendation letters online. For instance, the company ESA Doctors provides these letters after filling out an online questionnaire and paying a fee under $200. A mental health professional evaluates the request and will send the letter in less than a week if the individual qualifies.[2] This has created an on-demand system for pet owners, which has ultimately led to some problems in co-op and condo buildings. Many residents that move into pet-free buildings do so to avoid animals. They may be allergic, fear certain pets, or may simply find them a nuisance. Since the law is so broadly defined and as companies take advantage of the incoming business by offering professional letters without patient’s having to step foot into a doctor’s office, it is unlikely that the trend will die down anytime soon.

The co-op or condo board may request proof of the disability from a doctor, therefore, the disability must be legitimate and the resident must show that the emotional support animal will be medically helpful. However, board members need to be cautious if they deny a request because the resident may file a complaint with the Law Enforcement Bureau of the NYC Commission on Human Rights for discrimination. If the Commission finds that the board discriminated against the resident, the building may be fined up to $250,000, not including damages awarded to the resident.[3]

[1] Stellin, S. (Sept. 27, 2013) “Do You Have a Doctor’s Note?” The New York Times. Available at: Accessed on August 24, 2018.

[2] See ESA Doctors. Available at: Accessed on August 24, 2018.

[3] Kaysen, R. (July 21, 2018) “Why Are Emotional Support Pets Allows in My Pet-Free Building?” The New York Times. Available at: Accessed on August 24, 2018.

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