In March 2020, a bill was passed in The Michigan House that has made the laws around registering an Emotional Service Animals more restrictive.
Currently, the laws governing Emotional Support Animals are open to abuse by some people who falsely register their pets. Some scammers capitalize on privileges enjoyed by people who have Emotional Support Animals, such as free air travel for their animal or to be able to live with them in an apartment building or house where animals are usually not allowed.
Most advocacy groups welcome a discussion about tightening the law to prevent these abuses. But does this law go too far? Will it adversely affect people who genuinely depend on their Emotional Support Animal?
In this post, we'll examine the changes in the law and both sides of the argument. Is the Misrepresentation of Emotional Support Animals Act a positive or negative development? Let's find out.
First of all, what are the changes that have been introduced by House Bill 4910, and what do they mean for people who genuinely need their Emotional Support Animal?
First, this law has made it illegal for people to misrepresent themselves as a person with a disability, or their pet as an Emotional Support Animal.
It is also now lawful for housing providers to require documentation from the applicant's healthcare provider in order to validate that they need an Emotional Support Animal. This healthcare provider must have treated the person in the last 6 months and provide a notarized letter to prove it.
In another departure from the current law, the authorizing healthcare provider has to be registered by the State of Michigan, or the state where the person has lived in the last 180 days. In addition, the healthcare provider must have registered business premises - a move that prevents people from acquiring online certifications from providers who don't have a physical office.
If anyone is caught breaking this law they could be required to pay up to $500 in fines and 90 days in prison or 30 days community service. Housing providers who find their tenants have abused the system will lawfully be able to terminate their lease and evict them.
Service Animals are not affected by these changes in the law.
In the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Service Animals are defined as animals that have been trained to do specific tasks for someone with a disability. Even though Emotional Support Animals are often used as therapy animals for people with disabilities, they are not considered Service Animals by the ADA.
In Michigan, animals are not allowed to be registered as Service Animals based on a claim that they provide emotional support.
Currently, the main requirement in order to register a pet as an Emotional Support Animal in Michigan is to provide a therapist's letter confirming that the person has a disability and requires an animal for psychological support.
This system is open to abuse as some people get their letter from a dubious website broker who acquires letters from clinicians based on rudimentary telephone consultations or answers provided in a questionnaire. These sites also sometimes misrepresent their sales of merchandise such as support vests and tags which they suggest are mandatory, when in fact, they are often not required in law.
Abuse of the system has a number of effects. There have been reports of fake Emotional Support Animals causing a public disturbance or even harming members of the public.
Abuses such as these also make life more difficult for people who genuinely rely on their Emotional Support Animals, as they can undermine the public's belief in the system and make all Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals the subject of suspicion.
The increase in the number of fake Emotional Support Animals has also led to some service providers such as airlines and taxis clamping down and tightening their rules. This can make it more difficult for people with a genuine need for an Emotional Support Animals to use the service. These restrictions can greatly impact the lives of people who often already have difficulty with day to day life.
While we fully support tightening the law to crack down on people who abuse the system by having their pet falsely prescribed as an Emotional Support Animal, we are concerned that this change in the law will make it more difficult for people who genuinely depend on their ESA in order to go about their day to day life.
We are particularly concerned that people who require their ESA for psychological support will find it too difficult to use public transport, taxis or fly, and that they might face eviction from their homes.
It remains to be seen what the effects of these changes in the law will be. We'll be keeping our eye on the situation, and will be sure to keep you informed. In the meantime, if you want or need to register your emotional support animal or service dog, National Service Animal Registry can help. They have the answers and services you need.