They are in planes and on trains, by pools and in schools and often in the “no pet” condominium community where you purchased a unit. While emotional support animals or ESAs come in many shapes and sizes and have included birds, reptiles, cats, squirrels and pigs, most communities deal with a plethora of dogs being requested as ESAs. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they don’t appear to be going anywhere.
Many condominium and cooperative communities have seen their legal budgets double or triple to account for the growing number of requests for ESA accommodations. For years, we’ve been hearing from frustrated people who are not anti-pet but are anti-fraud, asking why lawmakers are not taking steps to rein in the abuse.
A step in the right direction might be right around the corner. Representative Sam Killebrew has filed HB 209 which, if it passes in the 2020 state legislative session, will amend Chapter 760 of the Florida statutes to do the following:
- Prohibit discrimination in the rental or sale of a dwelling to a person with a disability who has an ESA.
- Prohibit an owner or lessor of a dwelling unit from requiring a disabled person to pay extra compensation for the ESA.
- Permit an owner or lessor of a dwelling unit to request certain 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. If a person requests to keep more than one ESA, the owner or lessor of the dwelling unit may request such written documentation establishing the need for each animal. The written documentation must be prepared in a format prescribed by the Department of Health and may not be prepared by a practitioner whose sole service to the person requesting the accommodation is preparation of the written documentation for a fee. This portion of the bill will help reduce the online letters which are currently being submitted for many ESA requests.
- Prohibit the falsification of written documentation or other misrepresentation regarding the need for an ESA.
Require the owner of an ESA to be liable for any damage done by the ESA to the premises or to another person on the premises.
Most important, HB 209 would criminalize the submission of fraudulent written documentation for an ESA as well as criminalizes conduct or verbal or written notice which knowingly and willfully misrepresents an individual as having a disability or disability-related need in order to obtain an ESA. HB 209 clarifies that those individuals could be charged with a misdemeanor of the second degree and must perform 30 hours of community service for an organization that serves disabled persons, or for another entity or organization at the discretion of the court.
The bill as currently worded applies to the owner or lessor of a dwelling unit and not to a housing provider such as the association. The provisions of the bill discussed above would apply to a unit owned by the association but would not necessarily apply to the association’s screening of applications for a reasonable accommodation. Still, the filing of HB 209 is a positive move towards reining in the growing abuses related to ESA requests. This bill will hopefully be amended to clarify that association boards can rely on its provisions when evaluating ESA requests.
If HB 209 passes, it will become law on July 1, 2020.