Documentation could be required for assistance animals

Landlords could require written documentation of a tenant’s disability before allowing an assistance animal on their property under a bill considered Feb. 20 by the Judiciary Committee.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist02' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Robert Clements'>Sen. Robert Clements</a>
Sen. Robert Clements

LB553, introduced by Elmwood Sen. Robert Clements, would permit landlords to require written verification from a licensed Nebraska health service provider of a tenant’s disability and the need for an assistance animal.

Clements said some tenants have sought online verification letters for their pets to avoid paying pet deposits and similar pet fees.

“This [bill] seeks to address the problem of people going on the internet to pay for a verification letter stating that they need an emotional support animal when they don’t suffer from a disability,” he said.

Gene Eckel, representing the Nebraska Association of Commercial Property Owners, supported the bill.

“We strongly support the rights of disabled persons to seek reasonable accommodations but abuse is a problem for landlords,” Eckel said. “Without the clarity in this law, landlords are subject to costly legal challenges … to dispute lawsuits from [bad] actors.”

Opposing the bill was Brad Meurrens, public policy director for Disability Rights Nebraska. A landlord could not identify an unseen disability in order to demand verification without invasive, possibly illegal questioning, he said.

“We don’t approve or endorse people trying to ‘game’ the system,” Meurrens said. “However, the goals [of LB553] can largely be achieved through education and enforcement of existing federal law.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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