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My no-pet building is now allowing emotional-support animals, but I'm afraid of dogs. What can I do?

Laws at the national, state, and city level include allowances for pets that provide emotional support to their owners.

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Question:

I live in a no-pet building and picked it specifically for that reason, because dogs make me anxious. Now our building is allowing "comfort pets" to aid other people’s mental health issues, and my own are ratcheting higher as a result. Is it reasonable to ask for an accommodation to have the building ban more pets, since I have a mental health issue as well?

Answer:

Under the laws governing the ownership of emotional support animals, your pet-owning neighbors' needs may take precedence over your own, our experts say.

Laws at the federal, state, and city levels all include language allowing for residents with disabilities to keep a companion animal for emotional support, according to the New York Times. And management that denies a resident's request for a comfort pet-—even if the building has a no-pet policy—could face a hefty fine, if that resident complains to the city's Commission on Human Rights.

This may be why the number of emotional support animals in NYC is growing, writes Habitat Magazine, and while not every New Yorker is thrilled about this development, the law favors the pet-friendly over the pet-averse.

"NYC cooperative boards, condominium boards, and landlords are required by law to allow residents to harbor emotional support pets in an instance where a resident has established that he or she has a recognized disability and that he or she needs the emotional support pet in order to reasonably use and enjoy his or her apartment," says Jeffrey Reich, a partner at Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas. "Thus, a fear of dogs, unless it was related to a recognized disability, would not be afforded the same level of accommodation."

That said, residents who request an emotional support animal must demonstrate their need for one, so you may want to speak with your board about procedures for deciding to waive the building's no-pets policy.

"It seems to me that you have every right to have your voice heard," says Deanna Kory, a broker with Corcoran. "The question is what is the requirement to prove legitimacy? This probably would be worth investigating given your situation."

According to Mobilization for Justice, emotional support animals are intended for those who meet the legal definition of having a disability—that is, that they are limited in a major life activity—and that their pet will help them to function. Residents requesting an emotional support animal must also be "reasonable," meaning the pet they intend to keep will not damage property or harm other residents. Often, the request for such a pet will require some paperwork, including a doctor or therapist's note attesting to the resident's need.

Though you may not be able to prevent your building from permitting more animals, it's certainly within your rights to check with management that they're following the appropriate procedures before they agree to allow your neighbors to bring in pets.


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