Emotional Support Animals – Grabbing the Tiger by the Tail
Pet free communities are essentially extinct. I am sure many of you readers have had to navigate an emotional support animal accommodation request as it has become a hot topic in the past few years. Florida Statute § 760.27 was amended in 2020 to provide some clarity, add some teeth to enforcement and to track HUD guideline changes made in 2020 as well. Florida Statute § 760.27(1)(a) defines an 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.” This language differentiates an emotional support animal from a service animal, which is defined in Florida State § 413.08(1)(d) as an “animal that is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.”
I have heard about folks having emotional support chickens, pigs, squirrels, ducks, cats, dogs, and a plethora of other animals. Certain animals pose a greater health, safety and welfare threat than others. I think you will see case law eventually develop to a point where there are brighter lines regarding the range of acceptable emotional support animals. Here are some of the highlights of Florida Statute § 760.27 to help guide you in your evaluation of an emotional support animal accommodation request:
• Accommodation requests can be denied if the emotional support animal poses a direct threat to the safety or health of others or a direct threat of physical damage to property if the threat cannot be reduced by another accommodation.
• If a person’s disability is not readily apparent you can request reliable information that reasonably supports that the person has a disability.
• If a person’s disability-related need for an emotional support animal is not readily apparent, request reliable information that reasonably supports the person’s need for the particular emotional support animal being requested.
• Such information is reliable if the practitioner or provider has personal knowledge of the person’s disability and is acting within the scope of his or her practice to provide the supporting information.
• If a person requests to keep more than one emotional support animal, request information regarding the specific need for each animal.
• You can require proof of compliance with state and local requirements for licensing and vaccinating each emotional support animal.
• A housing provider may not request information that discloses the diagnosis or severity of a person’s disability or any medical records relating to the disability.
• A housing provider may develop and make available to persons a routine method for receiving and processing reasonable accommodation requests for emotional support animals.
• A housing provider may not require the use of a specific form or notarized statement, or deny a request solely because a person did not follow the housing provider’s routine method.
• An emotional support animal registration of any kind, including, but not limited to, an identification card, patch, certificate, or similar registration obtained from the Internet is not, by itself, sufficient information to reliably establish that a person has a disability or a disability-related need for an emotional support animal.
• A person with a disability or a disability-related need is liable for any damage done to the premises or to another person on the premises by his or her emotional support animal.