SAN ANTONIO – A local veteran, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was told his emotional support dog was not welcome after he moved into a new apartment. Management said the dog was not allowed until they had more proof that the veteran really needed the animal.
“Before I had him, you could say I was hitting rock bottom. I wouldn’t get up other than to use the restroom,” veteran Mark Soriano said.
Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are all symptoms of Soriano’s post-traumatic stress disorder — a side effect of eight years in the Army serving as a flight medic and flying unmanned drones.
“Being in the Army, you know, you feel like you have a purpose helping others and stuff. Then when you get out, it’s like, what's my purpose now?” Soriano said. “The one thing that was helping me was not there to help me.”
Management at Soriano’s new apartment complex told him that his service animal, Max, could not stay, even after Soriano provided them a letter from his doctor.
“Why wouldn’t it be OK ... when a doctor is telling me I need this service animal?” Soriano said. “I feel like you’re calling me a liar."
Soriano gave management a second letter from his physician. Still, Max wasn’t allowed to move in.
The veteran called the Defenders because he was frustrated that no one would tell him what the letter needed to say. When we called management, they referred us to their attorney who told us what it would take to move Max in.
The requirement is something born out of easy access and something people are buying online.
“What we have seen over the last couple of years is an explosion of bogus service animal certificates,” said David Fristche, attorney for the San Antonio Apartment Association.
In a seminar, nearly every apartment manager said they came face to face with a fake service animal certificate, causing some managers to question the real thing.
"If it's somebody that's trying to get a pet in that's really a pet and not an emotional support animal, it's being very unfair to people who are truly disabled an need animals,” Fristche said.
“It hurts individuals, like myself, who legitimately need it, and now I had to go through all these extra hoops,” Soriano said.
Max and Soriano are roommates once again after a third and final letter from Soriano’s doctor.
“It’s kind of strange to have other people tell me they can notice a difference in me,” Soriano said. “I finally feel like I got part of myself that was missing back.”
The Fair Housing Act sets the guidelines for emotional support and service animals in apartments.
Fristche said a letter to apartment management or a landlord should clearly state what a person’s disability or condition is and how the animal helps the person’s condition. No one is allowed to ask for proof of a need if someone’s disability can be plainly seen.
It’s a misdemeanor in Texas to misrepresent a service animal, but Fristche said in his experience, he has never seen that enforced.