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Bill on emotional support animal housing accommodations heads to governor

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Bill on emotional support animal housing accommodations heads to governor

Apr 01, 2024 | 7:45 pm ET
By Robin Opsahl
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Bill on emotional support animal housing accommodations heads to governor
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Landlords could seek documentation for a tenant's need for an emotional support animal under legislation approved April 1, 2024. (Stock photo via Getty)

The Senate sent legislation to the governor that would require additional documentation and certain restrictions for emotional support animals in Iowa rental properties.

While some lawmakers had objections to earlier versions of Senate File 2268, the bill was amended by the House and passed the Senate unanimously in its amended form Monday. The legislation would create a system allowing landlords to request documentation showing the need for an assistance animal or service animal from a tenant — stipulating that documentation should include whether that the medical provider registering the animal and patient had a relationship longer than one month before the request, and disclosure of if the licensing provider received a separate or additional fee for making the registration.

The legislation outlines reasons for which a landlord can reasonably deny requests for a service or support animal, such as undue financial and administrative hardship to the landlord, if accommodating the animal would “fundamentally alter” the property, or if the animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others or causes substantial physical damage to the property.

Sen. Scott Webster, R-Bettendorf, said the bill will help ensure that people in need of assistance and service animals are able to get accommodations, but that people who are “inappropriately” using assistance animal accommodations will be less able to misuse the system.

“I think this bill creates a good situation, where the abusers of this particular program can get out of the shadows and be seen that they’re abusing the situation,” Webster said during State Government Committee meeting on the bill in February. “So that those who really need emotional support animals can have those animals within rental properties and housing situations.”

The bill was amended by the House in March, making changes that clarify the differences between assistance animals — like emotional support animals — and service animals, like guide dogs or other animals that help individuals with specific tasks that a physical disability prevents them from being able to do.

Rep. Josh Turek, D-Council Bluffs, said that the amendment ensures the bill does not cause problems for people with physical disabilities seeking housing accommodations.

“We want to avoid any unintentional consequences to disabled individuals that really need that the service animal,” Turek said during floor debate in March. “We want to have more regulation on the emotional support animals without adding any unnecessary burdens to the disabled individuals, or eroding any of those protections.”

Rep. Jacob Bossman, R-Sioux City, said that while he usually doesn’t “look to California or the federal government for public policy guidance,” the amended legislation was modeled on California’s emotional support animal laws and the federal Fair Housing Act.

“I believe it establishes clear, common sense regulations that are transparent and will protect good-acting tenants and landlords, and make the system sustainable well into the future,” Bossman said.

There were also concerns about earlier versions of the bill potentially conflicting with federal housing laws, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act. Rep. Heather Matson, D-Ankeny, said the bill’s final language addressed concerns about compliance with federal law.

“While not all of my concerns were addressed as related to documentation requirements for assistance animals, I do think that this amended bill is a great example of bipartisan compromise that clarifies a framework and provides a clear structure for landlords to follow that remains in compliance with federal law,” Matson said.

The legislation heads to Gov. Kim Reynolds for final consideration.