Florida Senate Passes Bill Criminalizing Misrepresentation of Need for Comfort Pet

Last month, the Florida Senate unanimously passed a bill targeting people who misrepresent their need for an emotional support animal in housing like condominiums and rental buildings.  The bill makes it a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to sixty (60) days in jail and/or a $500 fine, as well as community service, to submit false information to a housing provider in support of a request to keep an emotional support animal.  While the bill includes language that is consistent with federal law in forbidding housing providers (like Condominiums, HOA’s, and Rental Buildings) from discriminating against people who have a legitimate need for an emotional support animal, it seeks to crack down on what many see as abuse of the system.  In announcing the bill’s passage, Florida Senator, Kevin Rader of Boca Raton, stated that people should not be permitted to submit “phony baloney psychological papers,” which can be obtained online for less than $100, to falsely claim that their pet is an emotional support animal.

This new legislation highlights the importance of submitting proper and reliable information in support of a request for accommodation for an emotional support animal.  Getting it right the first time will be  key to avoiding further demands and delays by your landlord or condominium association.  Before the passage of this bill, submitting an inexpensive online certification to support a request to keep an emotional support animal was a surefire way to have your request delayed or denied.  Under the new legislation, doing so exposes pet owners who misrepresent their need for a comfort pet (emotional support animal) to the possibility of criminal prosecution and jail time.  Here’s what you need to know.

The Specifics of the Bill

The bill prohibits “discrimination in the sale or rental of a dwelling to a person with a disability or a disability-related need who has an emotional support animal” and “requiring such person to pay extra compensation for such animal.”  It also states that a housing provider can “request certain written documentation under certain circumstances” and prohibits the “falsification of written documentation or other misrepresentation regarding the use of an emotional support animal.”  The bill defines “emotional support animal” 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.”  If the disability is not readily apparent, the landlord or condominium association may request supporting information, including:

  • Determination of disability from any federal, state, or local government agency;
  • Receipt of disability benefits or services from any federal, state, or local government agency;
  • Proof of eligibility for housing assistance or a housing voucher received because of a disability;
  • Information from a health care provider with personal knowledge of the disability.

A person who “falsifies written documentation” or “otherwise knowingly and willfully misrepresents” as having a disability or disability-related need for an emotional support animal commits a second degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to sixty (60) days in jail and/or a $500 fine.  As an additional penalty, violators of the bill will have to perform 30 hours of community service for “an organization that serves persons with disabilities or for another entity or organization at the discretion of the court.”

The bill also states that, unless otherwise prohibited by federal law, rule, or regulation, a housing provider may:

  • Prohibit 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 cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation
  • Request written documentation prepared by a health care practitioner which verifies that the person has a disability or a disability related need and has been under the practitioner’s care or treatment for such disability or need, and the animal provides support to alleviate one or more identified symptoms or effects of the person’s disability or disability-related need.
  • Require proof of compliance with state and local requirements for licensing and vaccination of an emotional support animal.

It should be noted that a similar House bill is awaiting a full chamber vote.

How a Florida Condo Attorney Can Help

We can help you with your request for an accommodation for an emotional support animal from start to finish to make sure it gets done correctly and that you receive written documentation of the approval.  We serve the legal needs of individual condominium owners, home owners and cooperative owners in resolving disputes with their associations throughout Florida, including Broward, Dade and Palm Beach Counties, as well as Miami, Naples, Brickell, Hollywood, Davie, Pembroke Pines, Hallandale, Sunny Isles, Aventura, North Miami, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach.  We never represent the associations or their boards so we always know who we are fighting for.

If you need assistance with getting your emotional support animal approved in pet restricted housing, we welcome you to contact us at (954) 966-3909.  Please note that free case evaluation is by telephone and does not include legal advice.  Office consults with legal advice are available on a flat fee basis.

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