Like all other 49 states, Florida Emotional Support Animal Laws are bound by the Americans with Disabilities Act in regards to service dogs and ESAs. This means that an individual with a certified emotional support animal can fly with their companion in the cabin of an airline and should also be allowed to live in a housing unit that doesn’t otherwise allow animals. In both cases, the patient cannot legally be charged extra money to bring their ESA with them.
The ADA lays out the minimum level of protection that all states must abide by. Some more progressive states have laws in place to provide added protections to people with emotional disabilities. Other states have not taken any steps, either consciously or unconsciously, to address the needs of emotionally challenged people in their ranks. This doesn’t mean that you live in a state with less regulations you aren’t protected – it just means that the degree to which you are can vary. Florida is a good example of a state the following the letter of the law without going out of its way to provide much support on the ground.
Two recent developments in Florida Emotional Support Animal Laws have made things a bit more challenging for a handler of an emotional support animal. The first has to do with homeowners associations and condominium associations – of which Florida has quite a few. Several stories have come out recently about HOA’s and CA’s making it very difficult for people with emotional support animals to exercise their right to care. While the associations are not technically breaking the law, many have found ways to make it especially difficult for ESA handlers to have their case heard.
At the same time, the state legislature has slapped an added fine on anyone who lies about the status of their emotional support animal or service dog. While we strongly condemn anyone lying about the status of their pet for special treatment, there is a fear that people will question ANYONE who cannot provide immediate proof of their animal’s status. This can lead to discrimination and potentially unfair treatment of legitimately disabled people. The last thing we want is for a stigma to be attached to ESA’s in general.
It should be noted that the legislature did at the same time include an added fine on entities that knowingly discriminate against ESA or service animals, so there is hope that protections will be kept in place.
Florida is not alone in the level of support it provides to patients and emotional support animals. While a lot of progress has been made in recognizing the value of ESA’s, there is still a ways to go in bringing all state laws up to speed. The best way to do that is to continue to educate people on a local level about the real consequences of emotional disabilities and the real value of emotional support animals. We encourage all of our clients to educate themselves as much as possible so that they can in turn act as advocates for emotional disability themselves.