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As previously reported by CALL, two bills are making their way through committee in the Florida House and Senate. House Bill 209, sponsored by Representative Killebrew and Senate Bill 1084 sponsored by Senator Diaz, aim to protect disabled Floridians and curb some abuses related to emotional support animals (“ESAs”). Growing frustration over perceived illegitimate ESA requests unites Florida community associations. Fraudulent ESA requests harm not only community associations by forcing them to spend limited resources and precious time evaluating sometimes blatantly fraudulent documentation but also harm persons with a legitimate disability-related need for an ESA. Click here to read the bills.

House Bill 209 and Senate Bill 1084 are similar in that they seek, among other items, to prohibit discrimination in the rental of a dwelling to a person with a disability, authorize a landlord to request certain written documentation regarding an ESA request, and prohibit the falsification of written documentation or other misrepresentations regarding the use of an ESA. Under the proposed bills, when a person’s disability or disability-related need is not readily apparent, the landlord may request written documentation prepared by a health care practitioner, as defined by Section 456.001, Florida Statutes, verifying the requestor has a disability and disability-related need for the ESA. The ESA requestor must be under the health care practitioner’s care, and the ESA must alleviate one or more identified symptoms or effects of the disability. Further, if a person requests more than one ESA, the landlord may request 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 health care practitioner whose exclusive service to the person requesting the ESA is the preparation of the written documentation in exchange for a fee. The bills would also require proof of compliance with state and local requirements for licensing and vaccinations of the ESA. Finally, the bills provide criminal sanction for a person who falsifies written ESA documentation or otherwise knowingly and willfully misrepresents themselves, through conduct, verbal or written notice, as having a disability or a disability-related need and being qualified to use an ESA.

While these bills are a huge step in the right direction, they are not currently drafted to take into account that Florida community associations are the entities that most often receive reasonable accommodation requests from owners, tenants, and guests for the use of an ESA. Further, the incorporation of the term “health care practitioner,” as defined in s. 456.001 is overly broad and will severely diminish the effectiveness of the bill. Please see my letters to these bill sponsors advising how the bills can best be amended to better protect the thousands of communities which have been impacted and will be impacted each year as ESA requests continue to grow. Click here to read the letters.

HonestESA is a targeted advocacy campaign being launched by CALL to ensure that the bills we discuss in this alert have the greatest likelihood of passage in the 2020 Legislative Session. HonestESA is true to its name with its mission to reduce illegitimate ESA requests. Your association has the opportunity to join in this effort for a $1,000 flat fee, which, according to our ESA Survey (click here to view the survey results), is less than the average association spends in a single year evaluating ESA requests. These bills were introduced last Session and sadly did not make it out of committee. Passing these bills will take a large investment of time and resources to educate your public policy makers on the current impact fraudulent requests are having. Members of our HonestESA lobbying initiative will have access to information directly from our CALL lobbyists throughout the Session and will be provided with the tools to help us increase the likelihood that 2020 is the year that we see some legislative assistance in curbing ESA abuses.

If you would like more information about joining our HonestESA initiative please email me directly at dberger@beckerlawyers.com




Donna DiMaggio Berger

Donna DiMaggio Berger

Contact: dberger@beckerlawyers.com

Donna DiMaggio Berger is a member of the College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL), a prestigious national organization that acknowledges community association attorneys who have distinguished themselves through contributions to the evolution or practice of community association law and who have committed themselves to high standards of professional and ethical conduct in the practice of community association law. Ms. Berger is also one of only 129 attorneys statewide who is a Board Certified Specialist in Condominium and Planned Development Law.