Distinguishing between a pet and a service animal has been a common concern for many community associations. In addition to applicable federal law, Section 413.08 of the Florida Statutes provides that an individual with a disability has the right to be accompanied by a service animal in all areas of public accommodation. A “public accommodation” is defined as places to which the general public is invited, such as a hotel or lodging place, and common modes of transportation, such as an airplane or bus. Community associations (particularly a condominium association) may be deemed to be a public accommodation depending on its rental restrictions and other factors.
On July 1, 2015, new legislation became effective which includes limitations on how a public accommodation may lawfully inquire about a person’s disability and need for a service animal. Specifically, a public accommodation may only ask if the animal is a service animal required because of a disability and what work or tasks the animal has been trained to perform. Also, it is important to understand that a public accommodation or agent thereof who denies enjoyment of or otherwise interferes with the rights of an individual with a disability commits a misdemeanor of the second degree. On the other hand, the new legislation made the knowing and willful misrepresentation of oneself as being qualified to use a service animal punishable as a second degree misdemeanor.
As stated above, in some situations a condominium or homeowners association may qualify as a public accommodation. Classification as a public accommodation may depend on factors such as whether unit rentals are permitted for terms of fewer than thirty (30) days and whether the property has been opened to the public, such as allowing non-members to use the pool or clubhouse. Other facts and circumstances may affect the determination of whether any particular association qualifies as a place of public accommodation, so those who are concerned should contact a Florida attorney for advice. Hopefully, however, the new legislation will deter false claims of disability and the need for a service animal while protecting those who have a legitimate need for the assistance of a service animal.