Florida Service Dog and Support Animal Law

Posted by floridacondoattorneys on December 4th, 2018

The federal government defines and regulates service dogs and support animals; but, these animals are also regulated and governed by Florida state and local condo/homeowner association laws. Although the federal government holds a particular stance towards service dogs and emotional support animals in public and in the home, Florida state and local homeowner association law can contradict and overrule national regulations. This means support animal and service dog laws in Florida are not identical to federal laws regarding service dogs and support animals.

About Service Dogs and Support Animals

According to the federal government, a service dog refers to any type of assistance dog specifically trained to help people who have disabilities; qualifying disabilities include mobility impairments, hearing impairments, visual impairments, seizures, and mental disorders. Service dogs are specially trained and certified, and a doctor is usually needed to verify a person’s need for a service dog.

The federal government recognizes a support animal, also known as an emotional support animal, as a companion animal that provides some benefits for a person disabled by a mental health condition or emotional disorder. A doctor or medical professional must also legitimize the need for an emotional support animal. Emotional support animals are usually dogs, but can also be other animals such as cats.

The main difference between a service dog and an emotional support animal is that a service dog requires specialized training to assist their owner with a disability-related task, while an emotional support animal does not need any specialized training.

About U.S. and Florida Law (Regarding Service Dogs and Support Animals)

Emotional support animals are recognized by the Fair Housing Amendment Act (FHAA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but are not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Therefore, it is federally legal to have a support animal in your home, but you can’t bring a support animal to public places such as stores and restaurants.

According to HUD, emotional support animals can relieve anxiety and depression and alleviate stress-induced pain in people with certain medical conditions influenced by stress. According to this federal department, emotional support animals and service dogs are allowed in all residencies. Yet, many Florida condominium and homeowner associations only allow service dogs and do not usually permit emotional support animals. At that, to have a service dog in your home in Florida one must jump through multiple legal and bureaucratic hoops.

Florida has had a serious problem with individuals fraudulently claiming to need and/or have a service dog or an emotional support animal; therefore, Florida service dog law has made it a second-degree misdemeanor to misrepresent your animal as a service or emotional support animal. A Florida public accommodation can also legally ask you if your animal is a service animal necessary for disability and what disability-related tasks the animal is trained to perform for you. Much more will be asked of you from a Florida condo or homeowners association if you wish to live with a service dog or emotional support animal.

If you wish to have a service dog or support animal in your home in Florida you will have to answer many more questions than the above-posed questions regarding service and support animals in public spaces. Support animal and service dog laws in Florida regarding said animals in the home are vastly different from the federal U.S. stance on service and support animals in the home. In order to prevent Florida condo or homeowner associations from asking for more information about your disability and service/support animal than is granted by law, you may wish to access and utilize a specialized attorney. Also, a Florida condo or homeowner association will not give you an automatic accommodation because you are disabled; you must provide extensive and reliable documentation to establish that you have a disability and that the service/support animal provides some sort of disability-related assistance or emotional support.

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