Florida's Emotional Support Animal Law with Respect to Housing
You found the perfect place to live, but the association or landlord does not allow pets. Meanwhile, you have a dog who provides you with a ton of emotional support. Your therapist has even credited your adoption of your dog as having reduced your anxiety, depression, and/or other mental health disability. However, your dog is not a service animal, meaning it does not have any specialized training or certifications to assist with a disability related task. What can you do and what should you do?
Under the Florida Fair Housing Act, if you have a well-documented mental health disability and a disability-related need for your dog, the condominium, homeowners, or co-op association must allow you to keep your dog on the premises so long as you make a proper request for a reasonable accommodation, provide proper documentation, and certain other requirements are met. See Florida Statute Section 760.27. In particular, “Emotional support animal” as defined under the statute, means “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.” So, the law does not limit emotional support animals to just dogs. Further, the law prohibits the association from charging a fee for having that emotional support animal.
To avail yourself of the protections offered by Florida’s Fair Housing Act, which was recently amended on July 1, 2020, you should obtain a letter from your mental healthcare provider which indicates that he or she has personal knowledge of your disability and identifies the particular assistance or therapeutic emotional support provided by your dog or cat. Your landlord or a housing provider may not request information that discloses the diagnosis or severity of your disability or any medical records relating to the disability, though you may choose to disclose them at your discretion. Be aware that a registration card or certificate obtained over the Internet saying your dog or cat is an emotional support animal is not, in itself, sufficient to prove a disability or a disability-related need for an emotional support animal.
In an attempt to the curb abuse of people claiming to have emotional support animals that are really just pets, the Florida Fair Housing Act makes it a criminal offense, a misdemeanor in the second degree, to knowingly provide false or fraudulent information that knowingly and willingly misrepresents the disability-related need for an applicant to have an emotional support animal.
Individuals with emotional support animals should also be advised that there are limitations to protections. The landlord or association may deny a reasonable accommodation request for an emotional support animal if such animal 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. In other words, if your landlord is allergic to dogs and/or cats, then he or she may deny your request for a reasonable accommodation. Likewise, if your emotional support dog is a pit bull or other potentially dangerous breed, your request to keep him or her on the premises may be denied.