Fake Service Dog Law Protects Disabled Individuals and Helps Condo Associations
Condo Associations with pet restrictions hoping to reduce the number of fake service animals within their communities may have a new tool thanks to recent changes to Florida law. The changes make it a misdemeanor to knowingly misrepresent an animal’s qualifications as a service animal. A service animal is now defined as an animal trained to do “work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability.” The work must be related to the individual’s disability. Though an association may inquire as to the tasks an animal can perform, the law does not require that an animal receive any formal training. Therefore, it appears that the disabled owner need only believe that the service animal can assist with the designated tasks. Associations relying on the potential misdemeanor for misrepresenting an animal’s capabilities are, at best, hoping for a deterrent effect on new applications for permission to bring service animals into their communities.
On the flip side, new provisions in the law add strong protections for individuals with so-called “invisible” wounds or disabilities. The law expands the definitions of “Individuals with Disabilities” to a person who has “physical and mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of the individual”. Though recognized under the ADA as a disability and therefore also recognized in Florida as such, the law not makes it clear that service animals are permitted for people needing them for emotional and psychiatric disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses.
This act had been referred to as the “Fake Service Dog Bill” and Condominium Associations and other businesses had anticipated protections against abuses would be beneficial to them. However, it appears that individuals and their service animals may benefit more from the protections in the new law.