When you invest in real estate, you’re probably focusing on what properties to buy, how much you should charge in monthly rent, screening tenants, managing maintenance, and so forth. And it does make good sense to prioritize those areas. But, there’s more.
If you rent to a tenant who needs a service animal to assist with disabilities, it’s important to know relevant laws. Of course, at all times, it’s in your best interest to stay abreast of all housing laws — or if not, seek out property management legal guidance. A service animal is not considered a pet, so any policies you have about pet ownership in your properties do not apply. Instead, you’ll need to provide reasonable service animal accommodations for tenants with qualifying disabilities.
You can find more specifics in Florida Statute 413.08. This statute provides a definition of a service animal that reads: “an animal that is trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability.”
Overview of the Laws
Tasks that this animal performs in public spaces may include:
- providing guidance for people who are visually impaired/blind
- alerting someone who is hard of hearing/deaf about issues of concern
- helping when someone has mobility or balance issues
- pulling a wheelchair
- protecting someone experiencing a seizure
- obtaining objects for the person
- reminding someone to take prescribed medications
- calming someone who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD)
This is not a comprehensive list, but it does help to show the broad scope of conditions that may allow someone to use a service animal in Florida.
Service animal rental laws in Florida go beyond federal law in one key way: “Any trainer of a service animal, while engaged in the training of such an animal, has the same rights and privileges with respect to access to public facilities and the same liability for damage as is provided for those persons described in subsection (3) accompanied by service animals.”
Emotional Support Animals
On July 1, 2020, Florida passed legislation to clarify how Florida residents can qualify to have an emotional support animal (ESA). Tenants need to provide appropriate documentation to landlords, and there can be legal consequences if they make false claims about their ability to have an ESA.
Documentation can be provided to you from a range of professionals, from a psychologist to a doctor, and from a social worker to a registered nurse. The person requesting an ESA can use telehealth visits to obtain documentation. FYI: One helpful service that we recommend to verify the validity of service animals is PetScreening.com.
Note that an ESA does not need to be specially trained to qualify as this type of animal and Florida law prohibits discriminatory acts against tenants who need to have an ESA. Landlords must provide reasonable accommodations for these animals, even when pets are generally not permitted. It is not permissible to charge a fee or pet deposit for someone needing an ESA.
A landlord can deny an ESA request under certain circumstances, including if the animal:
- directly poses a health and/or safety threat to other people
- directly poses a property threat
In each case, a landlord can deny the presence of an ESA if reasonable accommodations cannot effectively reduce or eliminate these threats.
As a landlord, you can request ESA documentation from a tenant, and also request proof that the animal meets licensing and vaccination requirements. It’s not acceptable to ask the tenant for specific information about his or her disability or its severity. Plus, you cannot request copies of any medical records.
A landlord can’t require that a specific form be used to demonstrate the need for an ESA or that the document be notarized. In addition, you can’t require additional forms or a different procedure if the tenant has provided what’s needed for an ESA.
How Resolute Property Management Can Help
Looking for a professional to handle issues like this? We encourage you to choose the best Ocala property management company: Resolute. As part of our comprehensive turnkey services, we’ll also take care of rules and regulation compliance so you don’t have to.
Ready to talk? Schedule a 15-minute call today.