Proposed Legislation in Florida Would Alter Requirements for Commercial Landlords When It Comes to Emotional Support Animals
Florida lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would affect a number of commercial landlord and tenant issues by addressing the ability for tenants to keep emotional support animals. Specifically, while it would prohibit landlords from charging more for emotional support animals, it would also allow them to ask for proof and hold a pet owner liable for any damage that they cause to property. In addition, the legislation mandates that any pet owners who obtain fraudulent letters in order to keep their pets as emotional support animals would also be penalized.
The bill has come about in part as a result of commercial landlords complaining that people are exploiting their ability to simply keep a pet with them at all times by claiming that they are emotional support animals.
What Current State & Federal Law Dictates
For legal purposes, it is important to distinguish between service dogs covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and emotional support dogs. The ADA dictates that individuals with disabilities may have their service animals in all areas that constitute “public accommodations,” such as stores, restaurants, schools, hotels, apartments, etc. These animals are specifically trained to assist someone with mental, physical, psychiatric, intellectual, or other disability, and the animal’s work must be directly related to that. For example, if someone is blind, they may have an animal that helps them cross the street.
However, Florida law does not protect the issue of emotional support animals in the same way (i.e. animals that provide a sense of safety or comfort to those with emotional disabilities or conditions). As a result, landlords and others have never been required to allow emotional support animals under state law. That being said, the federal Fair Housing Act does require housing facilities to allow both service dogs and emotional support animals in the interest of those with disabilities and conditions to have equal opportunity because, under the law, this animal is recognized as a type of assistance that represents a “reasonable accommodation” under the Act. As a result, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the Act, investigates any related claims of housing discrimination, and currently allows housing providers to ask only two questions when it comes to considering requests to have an emotional support animal on the premises:
- Does the applicant have a disability (mental or physical impairment) that limits one or more major life activities?
- Does the animal provide emotional support that affects their disability and/or does the animal work or otherwise provide assistance for the benefit of that person?
These individuals must only submit reliable documentation of the disability if “the disability is not known or readily apparent.” As a result, if this legislation passes, there may be significant confusion amongst landlords concerning whether or not they are complying with landlord and tenant rights under both state and federal law.
Contact Our Florida Commercial Landlord & Tenant Attorneys If You Have Questions
If you as a landlord have questions about drafting a commercial lease so as to ensure that it complies with what both state and federal law requires, enforcing an existing lease, or otherwise handling an eviction proceeding, contact one of our experienced Tampa commercial landlord & tenant attorneys at HD Law Partners in order to ensure that you are protected.