Florida’s new emotional support animal law makes it unlawful to discriminate in the provision of housing to a person with a disability or disability-related need for an emotional support animal. As of July 1, 2020, a person with a disability or a disability-related need for an emotional support animal must, upon the person’s request and approval by the housing provider, be allowed to keep such animal as a reasonable accommodation without having to pay extra compensation. Condominium associations engaged in conduct covered by the federal Fair Housing Act are considered “housing providers” under this new law.
It’s important to note that the new law applies to emotional support animals, not service animals trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. Service animals are covered under a separate statute. An “emotional support animal” is an animal that does not require training to do work, perform tasks, provide assistance or provide therapeutic emotional support by virtue of its presence which alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. However, an emotional support animal registration of any kind, including one obtained from the Internet, is not by itself sufficient to reliably establish a person’s disability or disability-related need for an emotional support animal.
If a person’s disability is not readily apparent, a housing provider may request reliable information that reasonably supports that person’s disability, which may include a determination of disability by a federal, state or local government agency or information from a licensed health care practitioner who is eligible under the statute to provide such information. If a person’s disability-related need for an emotional support animal is not readily apparent, a housing provider may request reliable information that reasonably supports the person’s need for the emotional support animal being requested. However, a housing provider may not request medical records relating to the disability or information that discloses the nature or extent of disability. Board members should be aware that another new statute makes it a crime to falsify or provide fraudulent information or documentation, or to knowingly and willfully misrepresent a disability or a disability-related need for an emotional support animal.
Unless otherwise prohibited by law, a reasonable accommodation request may be denied if the emotional support animal poses a direct threat to people or property that cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation. Under the new law, a person with an emotional support animal is liable for any damage or injury caused by the animal. They must also comply with applicable licensing and vaccination requirements.
The consequences for mishandling a request for an emotional support animal can be severe. Board members should proceed cautiously and seek legal guidance when necessary. Setnor Byer Insurance & Risk can help associations and board members identify, manage and insure their unique risks. Clients enjoy access to various risk management services, including our Unit Owner Report Line and Division-Approved New Board Member Education.