Dogs may be man’s best friend, but for housing providers, including landlords, condominium and homeowners associations, and property managers, emotional support animals (“ESA”) can cause quite the headache. The Florida legislature has offered a solution by cracking down on the increased abuse in claims for ESA certificates and requests for accommodations for ESAs. The new legislation, which took effect July 1, 2020, clarifies what housing providers can- and cannot do- when it comes to ESAs.
An ESA is an animal that does not require training to assist a person with a disability but, its mere presence provides support to assist with one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. Consistent with federal guidelines, housing providers may not discriminate against a person with a disability who obtains an ESA and, regardless of the provider’s pet policies, must allow such person to keep their ESA in their dwelling as a “reasonable accommodation in housing.” Housing providers cannot charge an extra fee for the ESAs.
The good news for Florida housing providers is that this new law allows them to seek additional documentation when they receive a request to make a reasonable accommodation for an ESA. A housing provider does not have to rely solely on the person providing an emotional support animal registration (e.g., identification card, patch, certificate, or similar registration obtained from the internet).
So what can the housing provider do when they receive a request for an ESA? As long as a person’s disability is not readily apparent, a housing provider may request documentation to support that a person in fact has the disability. The statute provides a list of the types of information a housing provider can rely on:
- A determination of disability from any federal, state, or local government agency
- Receipt of disability benefits or services from any federal, estate, or local government agency
- Proof of eligibility for housing assistance or a housing voucher received because of a disability
Information from a health care practitioner, a telehealth provider, or any other similarly licensed or certified practitioner or provider in good standing with his or her profession’s regulatory body in another state, but only if the person has been provided in-person care or services on at least one occasion. The statute adds the caveat that this
- information is reliable if the practitioner or provider has personal knowledge of the person’s disability and is acting within the scope of their practice to provide the supporting information.
- Information from any source that the housing provider reasonably determines to be reliable in accordance with the federal Fair Housing Act and s. 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Similarly, if the person’s disability-related need for an ESA is not readily apparent, the housing provider may request documentation to support the person’s need. This information may include:
- Information identifying the particular assistance or therapeutic emotional support provided by the specific animal from a practitioner or provider
- Information from any other source that the housing provider reasonably determines to be reliable in according with the federal Fair Housing Act and s. 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Keep in mind that under no circumstances may a housing provider request any medical records or information disclosing the diagnosis or severity of the person’s disability.
The statute also provides that housing providers can do the following:
- Deny reasonable accommodation for an ESA if they can establish that the animal poses a direct threat to the safety, health, or property of others
- Require proof of compliance with state and local requirements for licensing and vaccinating ESAs
- Request information regarding the specific need for each ESA if the person requests to keep more than one ESA in the dwelling
Note that this new law does not apply to service animals, which are animals trained to perform tasks or do work for individuals with a disability. Housing providers should also make sure they are in compliance with all federal guidelines, including the federal Fair Housing Act.