Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: After months of searching for the perfect Florida condo for your picky buyers, you have finally found the perfect unit that checks all of your buyer’s boxes. There is just one problem: NO PETS ALLOWED! As anyone who has ever had a beloved pet knows, pets are part of the family and leaving them behind is unthinkable. So the question inevitably becomes what are the buyer’s options in order to move into the condo of her dreams while not kicking a member of the family to the curb? Seeking an exception or just hoping the neighbors and the condo association won’t notice will quickly result in your buyer looking for a new condo. The best, and most likely the only option, is for the buyer to produce proper documentation certifying the pet as an Emotional Support Animal (“ESA”). However, due to the recently enacted Senate Bill 1084 (SB 1084), which went into effect on July 1, 2020, obtaining the proper documentation is not necessarily as easy as it once was. Prior to the enactment of SB 1084, buyers were able to quickly and easily obtain ESA certificates from on-line providers who had no personal knowledge of the animal or the person whose disabilities necessitated the ESA, and owners and landlords had no real option other than to accept the certificate and make accommodations. Upon the urging of the Florida Association of Realtors, among others, the newly enacted law makes the following significant revisions to Florida’s housing laws regarding ESA’s:
1. An ESA is now defined 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.” It is important to note that this new definition applies stricter limits as to the type of animal which can be considered an ESA.
2. It is now a criminal act for a person to knowingly falsify information or documentation or provide fraudulent information or documentation in order to obtain ESA certification, or to knowingly misrepresent themselves as having a disability in order to obtain ESA certification. These acts are now considered a second degree misdemeanor. Similarly, a health professional who provides ESA documentation without having personal knowledge of the person’s disability may now be subject to disciplinary action.
3. Home owners, condo associations, landlords, etc. may now request proper documentation for the ESA if the person’s disability is not readily apparent.
4. Proper ESA documentation must include supporting information from a health care practitioner who has personal knowledge of the person’s disability, and the practitioner must be acting within this scope of her field of practice. ESA certification from on-line sources with no personal knowledge of the animal or the disabled person is no longer legitimate, and home owners, condo associations, landlords, etc. may deny ESA accommodations when presented with this type of documentation.
5. Home owners, condo associations, landlords, etc. may deny an ESA request if the animal “poses a direct threat to the safety or health of others or poses a direct threat of physical damage to the property of others which threat cannot be reduced or eliminated by another reasonable accommodation.”
The major takeaway is that home owners, condo associations, landlords, etc. now have much more discretion to turn down buyers claiming their pets as ESA’s if the proper documentation is not produced. So if you have a buyer with an ESA, it is very important to make sure that the ESA paperwork meets the requirements discussed above before your buyer gets their heart set on a condo that does not allow pets. As always, should you have any questions about ESA’s or any other real estate topic, please do not hesitate to contact your local real estate attorney.
Andrew J. Conaboy, Esq., firstname.lastname@example.org
Berlin Patten Ebling, PLLC
This communication is not intended to establish an attorney client relationship, and to the extent anything contained herein could be construed as legal advice or guidance, you are strongly encouraged to consult with your own attorney before relying upon any information contained herein.
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