Service dog owners claim housing discrimination

'Fake' service dogs make landlords skeptical
Posted at 10:47 PM, Apr 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-05 00:47:02-04

DENVER -- Even though federal law is clear that housing can't be denied because of a service animal, Colorado attorneys say it has been a growing issue, in part, because of "fake" service dogs.

It's something Donnie Hogan has experienced first-hand.

On his good days, Hogan can go for a walk with the help of his service dog, a pit bull named Sonya.

"When I walk, she definitely helps me with my balance," said Hogan, who suffers from a degenerative bone disease that causes mobility issues. "She helps me stand up. She's always there for me."

But he said everyone from landlords to motel owners have turned him away, and he and his wife shot video of the most-recent incident on camera.

"We don't allow service animals," said the clerk behind the desk at a Denver motel.

Hogan said his current landlord knows he has a service dog, but he is still worried she will kick out his family.

"It aggravates me. I’ve got all these people that discriminate against me. I mean, it hurts your feelings, for sure," said Hogan. 

In Colorado, he is not alone in alleging discrimination based on a service animal. 

In a recent federal lawsuit, an Aspen condo association is accusedof fining an owner for allowing a service dog, accusing the owner of trying to scam the system.

"I don't think it's murky because the law is so strong," said Jay Swearingen, an attorney with the Animal Law Center, who said these problems keep coming up, in part, because of service dog fraud.

Denver7 has covered the growing problem of people getting prescriptions and vests online, in order to get pets into apartments or onto planes.

"Unfortunately, it's easier than it should be," said Swearingen.

Under the Fair Housing Act, both service and therapy animals are permitted in properties that ban pets. Although, with therapy animals, owners can be required to show documentation of a disability and the need for the animal.

No certification is required for a service dog, though, and it is only required to be trained to do a task for someone with a disability.

Even though Colorado made it a crime to "fake" a service dog, some people with disabilities, such as Hogan, feel that people are still skeptical.

"Anytime you talk to somebody, they’re too busy judging me. I just don’t understand why people are this way," said Hogan.


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