The Florida Legislature has passed a new law, effective July 1, 2020, regarding housing discrimination against people with emotional support animals (ESAs) as well as concerns about illegitimate ESA certificates. Section 760.27, Florida Statutes (2020), defines an ESA as “an animal that does not require training to do work, perform tasks, provide assistance, or provide therapeutic emotional support by virtue of its presence which alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.” The statute further provides that “it is unlawful to discriminate in the provision of housing to a person with a disability or disability-related need for, and who has or at any time obtains, an emotional support animal.” Indeed, a person who needs an ESA must “upon the person’s request and approval by a housing provider, be allowed to keep such animal in his or her dwelling as a reasonable accommodation in housing.”
However, due to concerns about people obtaining illegitimate or fraudulent ESA certificates online, the law also clarifies that “[a]n emotional support animal registration of any kind, including, but not limited to, an identification card, patch, certificate, or similar registration obtained from the Internet is not, by itself, sufficient information to reliably establish that a person has a disability or a disability-related need for an emotional support animal.” To properly certify an ESA, a health care practitioner must have “personal knowledge of the person’s disability” and be “acting within the scope of his or her practice to provide the supporting information.” Section 456.072 was also amended to provide grounds for discipline against health care professionals for “[p]roviding information, including written documentation, indicating that a person has a disability or supporting a person’s need for an emotional support animal under s. 760.27 without personal knowledge of the person’s disability or disability-related need for the specific emotional support animal.” Finally, section 817.265 was added to provide for criminal penalties for people who knowingly present false or fraudulent ESA documentation or misrepresent themselves as having a need for an ESA. Presenting false or fraudulent proof of a need for an ESA is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail. The statute also requires that anyone convicted of this crime complete 30 hours of community service.
Meredith Caruso, “New Emotional Support Animal Law: What’s It All Mean?” Florida Realtors, July 1, 2020, https://www.floridarealtors.org/news-media/news-articles/2020/07/new-emotional-support-animal-law-whats-it-all-mean
John Egan & Minh Vu, “Florida Enacts law to Combat Emotional Support Animal Fraud in Housing,” JDSupra, August 20, 2020, https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/florida-enacts-law-to-combat-emotional-35884/