In 2011, 2,400 service and emotional support animals (“ESAs”) were registered with the National Service Animal Registry. In the span of just eight years, that number increased over 8,000%, totaling almost 200,000 in 2019. While “service animals” are greatly regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), ESAs remain largely unregulated, and states have made it increasingly easy to obtain documentation for such ESAs, leading to a system rife with abuse. Through services which make vests, collars, tags, and identification cards to identify any animal as an ESA, and with online therapists writing letters for patients they have not evaluated, it is easy for owners to misrepresent pets as ESAs. Once an individual has documentation “proving” their animal is an ESA, a landlord must waive no-pet restrictions and pet fees, allowing tenants practically unfettered access to their pets.
As ESAs often live in pet-free housing, these animals may disturb other tenants, violating the covenant of quiet enjoyment, which guarantees a tenant’s right to peaceful possession of their living quarters. Because ESA owners have no legal right to take their ESA with them in public, these animals must often be left at home, which could lead to disruption to other tenants. Additionally, untrained animals may attack other individuals or service dogs, and may cause unsanitary conditions or allergies.
States should implement stricter regulations for the registration of ESAs; an ESA should only be prescribed by a licensed mental health physician who has treated the patient in person and knows of his or her condition. This physician should evaluate the interactions between the animal and its owner and consider the living circumstances of the animal. Implementing stricter regulations for the registration of ESAs would allow those with mental disorders to obtain them, curb abuse of the system, and allow tenants the right to quiet, safety, and health.
a J.D. Candidate 2021, University of Illinois College of Law. Thank you to the editors, members, and staff of the University of Illinois Law Review for all their hard work and Professor Richard Ross, whose guidance helped make this Note possible. To my parents, I cannot thank you enough for your unwavering support and encouragement. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you. To my grandparents, thank you for always believing in me and being there every step of the way. Finally, to Cara Cicciarelli, thank you for your patience with me during the experience which inspired this Note.
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