Certificate from internet no longer sufficient for my service animal?

Nope. As of July 1, 2020, the law relating to the qualification of a service animal changed to address the abuse of online certificates. In case you didn’t know, online certificates that purport your pet to be qualified as a service animal are very easy to get. In most cases, you simply have to make a payment. That’s it!

Florida Statute 760.27 has been changed to now state, in relevant part: “An emotional support animal registration of any kind, including, but not limited to, an identification card, patch, certificate or similar registration obtained from the internet is not, by itself, sufficient information to reliably establish that a person has a disability or a disability-related need for an emotional support animal.”

Pet owners who wish to have their pets qualified as their emotional support animal (“EMS”) must now provide more than just a certificate or ID card they received on the internet.

This is especially important to landlords who generally don’t allow pets in the space being leased.

No matter what, it is against the law to deny a person a lease because they have an emotional support animal due to a disability. Any person with a disability or disability-related need must be allowed to keep the animal in his/her home as a reasonable accommodation in housing. However, landlords can now deny a lease to a person without proper documentation that would show the pet’s qualification.

What can you ask a person with an ESA?

Questions to establish that a person has a disability and the need for an ESA:

It’s not always obvious when someone has a disability. So, if you’re a landlord and someone submits an application for a lease in one of your apartments (which does not allow pets) you can ask the prospective tenant for “reliable information that reasonably supports that the person has a disability.”

The statute refers to documents that serve as sufficient documentation as proof that a person has a disability that is not readily apparent, which includes:

  1. A determination of disability from any federal, state or local government agency;
  2. Receipt of disability benefits or services from any federal, state or local government agency;
  3. Proof of eligibility for housing assistance or a housing voucher received because of a disability;
  4. Information from a qualified health care practitioner, tele-health provider or any other similarly licensed or certified practitioner or provider in good standing with his or her profession’s regulatory body in another state, but only if such out-of-state practitioner has provided in-person care or services to the tenant on at least one occasion. Such information is reliable if the practitioner or provider has personal knowledge of the person’s disability and is acting within the scope of his or her practice to provide the supporting information; and
  5. Information from any other source that the housing provider reasonably determines to be reliable in accordance with the federal Fair Housing Act and s. 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Landlords can also request proof of vaccinations for the ESA.

Questions you CANNOT ask:

Landlords may not request information that may disclose or reveal the actual diagnosis or the severity of a person’s disability. Landlords are also prohibited from requesting medical records relating to that disability. However, a person may chose to provide this information at their own discretion.

Also, landlords can’t charge a pet fee/deposit for a service animal.

Conclusion

Certificates or other online registration obtained via the internet, by itself, is insufficient to establish that the person has a disability or a disability-related need for an ESA. If you have any questions on landlord-tenant issues, it’s best you speak with a qualified professional. But feel free to send your questions to questions@legallotus.com and we will try to create content addressing your concerns!

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Legal Lotus, P.A. is a Miami-based law firm specializing in family law, civil litigation, and the drafting of contracts, partnerships, and wills.

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