New Emotional Support Animal Law Florida 2020May 26, 2021
Mental health is of paramount importance, especially in these times. With all the thought and energy we spend on our physical health it makes sense that we also take care of our mental health.
One way emotional conditions are treated is with emotional support animals (ESA), usually an emotional support dog or cat. But if you have an ESA, and as a person with an emotional condition or disability, finding a new home comes with a whole new set of challenges only you can know. And no one needs the added fear and stress of possibly being denied housing or being discriminated against for owning an ESA.
Thankfully, a new law has been passed in Florida this year, effective July 1, 2020, which explicitly states what you and your current/prospective housing provider can and cannot do in regards to Emotional Service Animals. The law applies to all condos, apartments, and rental homes.
This new law also addresses a growing concern among landlords and condo boards, wherein tenants have been wrongfully passing off their pets as Emotional Support Animals by obtaining illegitimate ESA letters and certificates online.
Here’s how the new Florida ESA law empowers both sides:
ESA Rules: What a Landlord in Florida – Current and Future – Cannot Do
Cannot deny housing for disability or disability-related need. Amending the Florida Fair Housing Act, the new law strictly prohibits landlords from denying housing to any person with a disability or disability-related need who owns an Emotional Support Animal or acquires one in the future.
Cannot ask to disclose diagnosis or severity of disability. The new Florida ESA law prohibits landlords from requesting any kind of specific information related to the diagnosis or degree of severity, or even medical records relating to the disability. This further applies to any special forms or routine processes the housing provider may have in place. In case the tenant with an ESA fails to comply with the landlord’s “routine processes,” they still cannot be denied housing.
Does my ESA need to be trained?
No special ESA training required. Unlike service animals, since the very presence of an Emotional Support Animal helps alleviate symptoms in the affected person, the new law does not require ESAs to undergo specific training. However, it is highly recommended for owners to train their ESAs on safety and good behavior. So this means that your landlord or condo board cannot require that your emotional support dog have any special training or skills.
Can I be charged pet deposits or monthly fees for my ESA?
No additional pet deposit or monthly fees for ESA dog or cat. The bill explicitly prohibits housing providers from charging any additional fees for keeping ESAs, irrespective of their existing pet policies.
What kind of documentation or ESA letter do I need now?
Online ID card, patch, certificate, or other registration is not enough. Owing to the number of people misusing such online documentation to pass off their pets as ESAs, or simply having incomplete information, this part of the law protects landlords and empowers those in need.
Owners of Emotional Support Animals will now need to:
- Provide written documentation from any federal, state, local government agency, or specified health care practitioners, telehealth providers, or even out-of-state healthcare practitioners who have provided care/services to the person on at least one occasion, establishing that the person has an emotional disability for which the ESA has been prescribed.
- Provide written documentation to establish the need for an ESA, identifying the particular assistance or emotional support provided by the animal from any of the bodies or practitioners mentioned above.
Who can write an ESA letter?
As mentioned above, an ESA letter must be written by any licensed federal, state, local government agency, or specified health care practitioners, telehealth providers, or even out-of-state healthcare practitioners who have provided care/services to the person on at least one occasion, establishing that the person has an emotional disability for which the ESA has been prescribed.
What are the requirements for the ESA letter?
Usually, the ESA letter must be written by a licensed health practitioner or mental health professional who has determined that you have an emotional condition that qualifies as a disability. Additionally, while the ESA letter does not state your diagnosis, your mental or emotional condition should be listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Additionally, your health care professional will typically state the following:
- The identified condition substantially limits your ability to participate in at least one major life activity
- The professional has determined that an emotional support animal would help treat the condition or ease your symptoms, and this is your prescription for an ESA
- Your ESA letter must be on your therapist’s or licensed health professional’s official letterhead
- The ESA letter should include your therapist’s or health professional’s license details, issue date, and state
Disciplinary action against healthcare practitioners providing fraudulent ESA documentation. The new law creates a clause, wherein disciplinary action will be taken against a healthcare practitioner’s license for providing support information or documentation for an ESA without having any personal knowledge of the person’s disability or disability-related need. Explicitly mentioning it as a misdemeanor crime, the convicted person will need to perform 30 hours of community service as per the court’s orders.
I have more than one ESA. What do I do?
Rules for keeping multiple ESAs. In this case, the housing provider has the right to request information on the specific need being met by each animal, or how each emotional support animal is helping with the owner’s specific emotional needs, along with proof of licensing and vaccination requirements for each of the animals.
So similar to having one ESA, you will need to a letter for each ESA from your licensed mental health professional.
Source: Condo Blackbook / Blog