House OKs stricter laws for emotional support animals

May 7, 2019

House lawmakers voted nearly unanimously Tuesday to require certification of emotional support animals by licensed medical professionals and to make it a misdemeanor to misrepresent an uncertified pet as a disability-related therapy animal.

Under House Bill 796, emotional support animals would be defined in state law with a requirement that the owner’s need for the animal must be certified by a physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, psychiatrist, psychologist or clinical social worker. Therapists would not qualify nor would an approved provider who “solely provides written documentation or verification to a person with a disability for a fee.”

Sponsor Rep. Holly Grange, R-New Hanover, referenced a recent story about an airline passenger who attempted to bring his peacock on board as an emotional support animal.

“While these stories are good for a laugh, they also reveal an abuse that goes well beyond the airline industry,” Grange said, “and one which housing providers are unfortunately all aware of.”

Apartment managers, she said, have seen a dramatic uptick in tenants claiming their pets as emotional support animals as a way to get around number and breed restrictions and avoid pet deposit fees.

“Many of these requests come from tenants who are using online, out-of-state emotional support animal certification services, which simply change a flat fee for creating an on-the-spot approval for their animal,” Grange said. “Housing providers currently have no ability to verify this documentation or limit their use.”

Under the measure, it would be a misdemeanor for an animal’s owner to represent it as an emotional support animal without the required certification or for a health care professional to certify an animal solely for a fee.

Rental housing providers would still not be allowed to charge a deposit or fee for a certified emotional support animal, but they could require tenants to pay to repair any damage the animal does to the rental, just as if the animal was not certified.

The vote was 115-1 with no debate.

More than 30 other states have enacted similar legislation. Grange’s bill was modeled on Indiana’s recent law, according to her staff. Some airlines, too, have begun to require more certification for emotional support animals.

The bill now goes to the state Senate. If it becomes law, it would take effect next January.