Landlords grapple with rise in emotional support animals

Mar 24, 2019, 11:43 AM | Updated: 7:45 pm

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah landlords say an increasing number of renters are claiming their pets are emotional support animals and not subject to pet deposits and pet rents.

Landlords are struggling to determine which renters legitimately need the pets for medical reasons and which renters have fraudulently obtained a license to have an emotional support animal, said Paul Smith, executive director of the Utah Apartment Association, which advocates for landlords, the Deseret News reported .

“I can’t go 30 minutes any time I’m around landlords without someone bringing up assistance animals,” Smith said. “That’s the No. 1 issue for landlords. Landlords want to accommodate people with disability, but want to cut down on fraud.”

To call a pet an emotional support animal, people are required to get a letter from a therapist or doctor that states they have an impairment that limits their ability to perform life activities.

But the Deseret News found it is easy to acquire a letter online for $100.

Utah lawmakers this year passed a new law stiffening penalties for emotional support animal fraud. The new law made it a Class C misdemeanor to lie about the need for an emotional support animal or misrepresent a pet as being an emotional support animal.

Tiffany Thayne, 25, of Provo, said her therapist recommended an emotional support animal to help with anxiety, depression and PTSD that she developed after a car accident in high school left several of her friends seriously injured and one person dead. Her symptoms became worse after her sister died last year.

Thayne, a geology major at Brigham Young University, lives with her collie puppy named Dusty at an apartment complex in Provo. She says Dusty helps her mentally and physically.

“He makes it so I exercise at least twice a day,” Thayne said. “When I don’t feel like getting out of bed, I have to get out of bed to take care of him.”

Thayne said it’s sad that people are abusing the system.

“It makes it harder for people who actually need the dogs,” Thayne said.

Analisa Uribe, 21, has a miniature dachshund dog named Winston that helps her with anxiety, depression and PTSD that started after her father committed suicide when she was a child. Uribe said she was in a “dark place” and having suicidal thoughts when she moved from Oregon to Ogden, Utah, for college. Medicine her doctor prescribed made her feel like she was in a fog. Her dog provides real relief and seems to instinctively know when she needs soothing.

“If Winston sees that I’m upset, he will climb up on me or lay on my chest,” Uribe said.

Therapist Jeffrey Gregson, of Fruit Heights, Utah, said he’s careful not to provide letters to people who don’t really need emotional support animals.

“I have had many requests, but only granted a few,” Gregson said. “I’ve had many millennials ask for it, often unwarranted. I find it beneficial for those who are alone and suffering from depression.”

Smith, of the Utah Apartment Association, said landlords want to accommodate people who truly need the animals but don’t want to turn a blind eye to fraud.

“Our frustration is not that we don’t think there are people who genuinely need one,” Smith said, but added that the “animal has to be a medical necessity. We don’t think that definition is met most of the time.”

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Landlords grapple with rise in emotional support animals