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New bills aim to address "fake" emotional support animals in Michigan

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Posted at 8:09 PM, Nov 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-05 20:09:14-05

LANSING, Mich. — It’s called the "Misrepresentation of Emotional Support Animals Act," and it's addressing fake emotional support animals.

Fox 47 spoke with an East Lansing based real estate agency and they said the animals are unfortunately needed.

"You just don't know, is it real is a fake," said Matt Hagan, agent at Hagan Realty Inc.

He runs rental properties in mid-Michigan with a strict no-pet policy. Hagan says he's had enough of tenants trying to pass regular pets off as emotional support animals.

"We're certainly not against those situations. Unfortunately we see a large number of online applicants who have just paid the fee, gotten a letter and wanna have a pet like a dog or cat in our housing where we have a no pet policy," said Hagan.

Hagan's dad started Hagan Realty 50 years ago.

Now, he and his brothers oversee around 200 units throughout East Lansing, Lansing and Meridian Township.

He says every day they deal with a new emotional support animal application and it's hurting their business.

"I'm dealing with an attorney trying to figure out what we're gonna do on a particular request, so it takes a large amount of my time. Obviously, if someone has a legitimate claim, that's important, I need to address that," said Hagan.

Legislation in the State Senate would change the rules, requiring owners to have a six month relationship with an actual health care provider instead of getting an online recommendation for a support animal.

"We want to make sure that we have some regulations that people can follow,” said Senator Dale Zorn, who introduced the bills. “And that leasing facilities and apartments can rely on documentation that the animal is in fact an emotional support animal.”

But opponents of the bill like the Fair Housing Center of South-East and Mid-Michigan says the bill is problematic and could hurt people who actually need support animals.

They say it could violate civil rights and fair housing laws, although, the group admits there are people abusing the online certification option.

Hagan says existing laws are just too vague.

"Currently there's too much wiggle room for fraud and how it's currently laid out," he said.

“I don’t think I’d call it a crack down, what I think I’d call it is an explanation for what an emotional support animal is, and how a person can legally have an animal when there is a criteria that they have to meet,” said Zorn.

Consequences for violating the laws would be 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

The bill could be sent to the floor for a vote as early as Thursday.

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