I’ve posted about Emotional Support Animals (“ESA”) before, see my posts here , here and here. I keep coming back to this topic because emotional support chickens, peacocks on planes and little dogs at the grocery store (a common sight in Florida during the winter season) fascinate me. Now comes news that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed into law a bill that may end up limiting ESAs at your local condo complex.
SB 1084 , was signed by Gov. DeSantis on June 23, 2020, and provides for the following changes to Florida Housing Law:
- Section 817.265 of the Florida Statutes is amended to provide that a person who falsifies information or written documentation or who knowingly provides fraudulent information or written documentation to obtain an ESA or otherwise knowingly and willfully misrepresents himself or herself as having a disability or a disability related need for an ESA commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.
- Section 456.072 of the Florida Statues is amended to provide that a health professional who provides information, including written documentation, indicating that a person has a disability or which documentation supports a person’s need for an ESA without personal knowledge of the person’s disability is subject to disciplinary action.
- SB 1084 further amends Section 760.27 of the Florida Statutes to defines an ESA as “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.”
- SB 1084 also provides cover for home owner or condo associations to deny a reasonable accommodation request for an ESA if the animal being requested poses a “direct threat to the safety or health of others or poses a direct threat of physical damage to the property of others which threat cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation.”
- SB 1084 permits home owner or condo associations to request supporting information for the ESA if a person’s disability is not readily apparent.
- Additionally, the practitioner or provider of the supporting information for the ESA must have personal knowledge of the person’s disability and must be acting within the scope of his or her practice.
- If a resident requests more than one ESA, he or she must provide supporting information for each animal.
- The association may also require proof that each ESA is properly licensed and vaccinated.
- Persons with ESAs are liable for any damage done to the premises or to another person by the ESA.
- No fee will be required for ESAs under SB 1084.
This new law was mainly the result of many years of efforts from the Florida Realtors group. Realtors have been concerned about the continued use of ESA Certificates that can simply be downloaded after a purchase from on-line providers who have no relationship with the resident seeking the ESA. Additionally, the recent explosion of ESAs requested by condo or apartment residents has basically nullified the ability for landlords or residents (who may have allergies or other issues) to designate a housing complex as pet or animal free.
It will be interesting to see the litigation that will likely spin off as a result of this new law as the issue of ESAs is certainly not yet settled. And, this new law doesn’t address ESAs in restaurants or stores (which are already not permitted, but often confused for service dogs or animals).
Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP. Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims. You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.