Good news for communities dealing with dubious support animal accommodation requests – Senate Bill 1084 recently cleared the Legislature and is awaiting the Governor’s execution. In general, the law would grant housing providers, including community associations, greater discretion and protection when it comes to reviewing support animal requests. More specifically, the new law would:
- Make falsifying written documentation, or knowingly providing fraudulent information in support of a request to keep an emotional support animal, a second degree misdemeanor. Any person convicted of such an offense would be required to serve thirty (30) hours of community service for an organization that serves persons with disabilities.
- Provide for professional sanctions and disciplinary action for health professionals who “prescribe” support animals absent sufficient personal knowledge as to the patient’s alleged disability. Health professionals must also be acting within the scope of their practice when recommending a support animal for a patient.
- Allow community associations to request additional information as is reasonably necessary to confirm the validity of the alleged disability (provided the disability is not readily apparent). As a practice point, boards should exercise caution here, as requesting information beyond that which the board is permitted to request may expose the association and the board to potential liability.
- Permit community associations to deny an emotional support animal request if the animal in question poses a direct threat to the safety or health of others, or if the animal is likely to cause physical damage to the property of others. However, no such denial may occur where the potential harm may be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation. A word of caution – until we see how courts will interpret this provision, boards should exercise extreme caution here. Be sure to consult with legal counsel prior to denying or demanding the removal of a support animal in reliance upon the foregoing.
- Allow associations to require proof of compliance with state and local licensing requirements, as well as proof of up-to-date vaccinations.
- Finally, the Bill confirms that emotional support animal “registrations”, such as online certificates, ID cards, patches, vests, etc., are not sufficient to establish a disability related need for an accommodation absent some other, legally sufficient documentation.
While many aspects of Senate Bill 1084 mirror existing federal law, the widespread support for the Bill in both chambers affirms that the Florida Legislature has recognized that fair housing laws are, in some cases, being abused. Nonetheless, given the significant liability associated with accommodation requests in general, it remains prudent for boards to consult with legal counsel upon receipt of any such request.
If signed by the Governor, the new law would take effect on July 1, 2020. Click here to review Senate Bill 1084 in its entirety.