What Is The Difference Between Service Dogs & Emotional Support Animals?
Florida is home to many people with disabilities and other conditions where they might require a bit of extra help. Very often, this comes in the form of assistance animals – service dogs and emotional support animals (ESAs) of all kinds. However, too many people who are new to being disabled or in need of assistance may confuse the two categories, and try to seek benefits to which they may not strictly be entitled – and some, unfortunately, may simply try to game the system. If you are a landlord and are unsure on the differences between service dogs and ESAs, it is crucial you learn them, lest you run afoul of state or federal law.
Florida’s definition of a service animal (restricted to dogs and miniature horses, as of this writing) is an animal that is “trained to do work or perform tasks” for a disabled person. The disability need not be physical – one may have a service dog for psychiatric or other mental health needs. As long as the animal has been specifically trained to perform tasks that directly help with the handler’s disability – for example, alerting to high or low blood sugar for diabetics, or helping those with mental illnesses to refrain from dangerous behavior – the animal qualifies.
By comparison, an ESA is defined in Florida as an animal that does not require training to do work, perform tasks, or otherwise “help to alleviate” one or more symptoms of a person’s disability by its mere presence. Specifically, no training is required for an animal to qualify as an ESA; it may perform tasks or ‘work’ that help its handler, but need not have been trained to do so. In addition, ESAs may be more than just dogs or miniature horses; cats, birds, and reptiles are common.
Laws Protect Both
For landlords, the most important thing to be aware of is that both categories of animal are protected by both Florida and federal law. It is against both state and federal Fair Housing regulations to refuse to rent to a person with a service animal or an emotional support animal. ESAs are not covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which means that they cannot be brought into public places like stores, theaters or restaurants – but too many landlords extrapolate this into believing that ESAs are not permitted in some private homes, particularly those in a homeowners’ association (HOA).
You are permitted to refuse to rent to someone with a service animal or ESA if the applicant is not able to furnish the required evidence of their disability and/or need for a service animal or ESA in connection with that disability. You are not, as a private landlord, required to accept every person with a working animal or ESA – but if you reject them, it must be for a legally appropriate reason. Everyone has the right to be free from discrimination in housing, but refusal based on not providing the required evidence is not discriminatory.
Contact A Tampa Landlord-Tenant Attorney
People who need a service animal or an ESA to live a fuller life have the right to do so. They do not have the right to housing on demand, but they have the right to apply and be judged on the same standards as everyone else. If you have concerns about avoiding discrimination against housing applicants, contacting a Tampa landlord attorney from the Seward Law Office may help to get them addressed. Call our office today at 813-252-6789 for a consultation.