Gone to the Dogs: New Florida Legislation on Emotional Support Animals

Community associations have been grappling with the issue of emotional support animals for many years, mainly because communities that have tried to prohibit or limit the kind, number, or size of pets allowed to residents have found their efforts consistently stymied by claims that a resident needs a pet for reasons other than an open and obvious physical disability. An emotional support animal or “ESA” is an animal that provides aid to an individual through comfort and companionship but does not require formal training to aid an individual with a disability or to mitigate known symptoms of a mental illness. Governor DeSantis signed SB1084, which provides for increased regulation of ESAs.

SB1084 codifies existing law that community associations may not deny housing to individuals who require the assistance and support of an ESA for a disability or associated need. And, while housing providers are permitted to devise their own regulations in relation to making special arrangements for ESAs, they are not allowed to refuse a request based on the failure to follow a specific procedure. In addition, housing providers are no longer allowed to demand information regarding the severity of a person’s disability or information that discloses the diagnosis of a person’s disability, including medicals records. Housing providers are also prohibited from charging additional fees in relation to ESAs.

SB108 does, however, provide some new enforcement tools to community associations. If an ESA does present as a direct hazard to others by endangering their health or safety, or if it poses as a threat to another’s property, housing providers may prohibit the ESA. Housing providers may also request written documentation from an individual that evidently gives proof of an individual’s disability and demonstrated need for the ESA. Written documentation includes information provided by the following: a specialized medical provider, a telehealth practitioner, or any federal, state, or local government agency. Requests by an individual with a disability to keep multiple ESAs allow a housing provider to request additional information, such as evidence of veterinary records, vaccinations, and licensing for each ESA, as well as written documentation stating the specifics of the need for each ESA.

SB1084 now mandates that stricter disciplinary action be taken in upholding the regulations of ESA licensing. This includes providing evidence or written documentation relating to an ESA unaccompanied by a personal or professional knowledge of an individual’s disability or associated need. Providing false evidence or written documentation for an ESA is now identified as a misdemeanor crime. Convicted individuals will be required to earn 30 service hours with an organization which works with individuals with disabilities, or at a similar such organization assigned by the court.