Florida Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals
Under Florida law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities may bring their service animals to all "public accommodations," such as restaurants, museums, hotels, and stores. These laws also require those who operate transportation services to allow service animals.
Florida law and the ADA differ in some ways, but public accommodations in Florida must comply with both sets of laws, and their patrons are entitled to rely on whichever law provides the most protections. Read on to learn which animals qualify as service animals, which public accommodations must allow them, and more.
Which Animals Are Service Animals in Florida?
Florida’s service animal law applies to animals that are trained to do work or perform tasks for someone with a physical, mental, psychiatric, sensory, or intellectual disability. The work the animal does must be directly related to the person’s disability. For example, an animal might provide stability and balance to someone with impaired mobility, might alert someone who has a hearing impairment to sounds, or might interrupt someone with a psychiatric disability from engaging in self-destructive or dangerous acts. For access to public accommodations, only service dogs and miniature horses are covered. For housing, this limit does not apply; other types of animals may be covered.
The ADA defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. (In some cases, a miniature horse may also qualify as a service animal under the ADA.) The tasks or work the animal does must be directly related to the person’s disability.
Neither law covers pets or what some call “emotional support animals”: animals that provide a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional disabilities or conditions. Although these animals often have therapeutic benefits, they are not individually trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers. Under the ADA and Florida law, owners of public accommodations are not required to allow emotional support animals, only service animals.
Which Public Accommodations Must Allow Service Animals in Florida?
Florida's service animal law covers public transportation, hotels, timeshares, places of amusement, resorts, and any other place to which the public is invited. You may bring your service animal into any of these places.Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is very broad. It includes:
hotels and other lodging establishments
public transportation terminals, depots, and stations
restaurants and other places that serve food and drink
sales or rental establishments
any place of public gathering, such as an auditorium or convention center
places of entertainment and exhibit, like theaters or sports stadiums
gyms, bowling alleys, and other places of exercise or recreation
recreational facilities, such as zoos and parks
libraries, museums, and other places where items are collected or displayed publicly
educational institutions, and
social service centers.
Rules for Your Service Animal
You may not be charged extra to bring your service animal to any public accommodation. Even if the establishment ordinarily charges a pet deposit, you cannot be required to pay it for your service animal. However, you may be required to pay for any damage your animal causes.
Your animal must be under your control. The animal must have a harness and leash (or other tether), unless your disability or the work your animal does prevents the use of these tools. In this situation, the animal must be under control through other means, such as voice commands or signals.
An establishment cannot require you to provide documentation that your animal is trained, and it cannot ask you about your disability. However, it can ask you whether your animal is a service animal required for your disability, and it can ask you about the work the animal has been trained to perform.
A public accommodation is not required to allow your service animal to remain if it poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. If, for example, your service dog is growling and lunging at other patrons, and you are unable to stop the behavior, the dog might have to leave. An establishment may also exclude a service animal that isn’t housebroken or is out of control.
Service Animals in Florida Housing
Under Florida’s service animal law, people with disabilities who have service dogs and other assistance animals are entitled to full and equal access to housing. Your landlord may not require you to pay extra to have a service animal, although you are liable for any damages your service animal causes to the property or to another person.
The federal Fair Housing Act requires housing facilities to allow service dogs and emotional support animals, if necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home. To fall under this provision, you must have a disability and you must have a disability-related need for the animal. In other words, the animal must work, perform tasks or services, or alleviate the emotional effects of your disability in order to qualify. (For more information, visit the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website here.)
According to the § 35.104 and § 36.104 (2010), examples of work and tasks performed by service animals include, but are not limited to:
- guiding people who are blind or have low vision
- alerting people who are deaf or hard of hearing
- providing non-violent protection or rescue work
- pulling a wheelchair
- assisting an individual during a seizure
- alerting individuals to the presence of allergens
- retrieving items
- providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities
- helping persons with psychiatric or neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors
- reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, or
- calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack.
It’s important to note crime deterrence, safety or the provision of comfort or emotional support do not constitute "work or tasks" under the ADA.
Florida Statute 413.08 similarly defines a service animal as an animal that is trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability. In places of public accommodation a service animal is defined as a dog or miniature horse. The tasks may include, but are not limited to, guiding a person who is visually impaired or blind, alerting a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, pulling a wheelchair, assisting with mobility or balance, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, retrieving objects, alerting an individual to the presence of allergens, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to an individual with a mobility disability, helping an individual with a psychiatric or neurological disability by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors, reminding an individual with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming an individual with posttraumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack. A service animal is not a pet.” The difference between Florida law and the Federal law pertains to Service animals-in-training. Florida Statute 413.08(8) specifically states: “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.”
You may also contact Disability Rights Florida at 1-800-342-0823 if you have problems associated with your service animal.
Information provided by Nolo.com, Disabilityrightsflorida.org