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More States Looking at Service Animal Accommodations

Service Animal Accommodations

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A House bill that revises and clarifies definitions of service animals and public accommodations cleared the State Affairs Committee March 19 by a unanimous vote. Federal laws require certain accommodations for persons with disabilities. Even properties with no-pets policies may be found guilty of a fair housing violation should they refuse to rent to an individual with a service animal.

HB 71 expands and updates the definition of disability beyond obvious physical disabilities, but limits the definition of a service animal to “a dog or a miniature horse.” The bill also explicitly excludes “emotional support animals” (sometimes called “companion animals”) from the definition of a service animal: “The crime-deterrent effect of an animal's presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for purposes of this definition.” There are also allowances for owners to remove destructive animals and penalties for false claims that a pet is a service animal. The Florida Apartment Association supports the bill.

In a very different climate, North Dakota’s Legislature is also considering a bill dealing with service animals at multifamily rental properties. HB 1191 gives additional rights to property owners who have a no-pets policy. The bill would allow the owner to require reliable supporting documentation from the resident or potential resident asserting the need for an accommodation for a service animal. A physician or medical professional would qualify as a source.

The supporting documentation would also need to describe both the individual’s disability and the relationship between that disability and the need for a reasonable accommodation. It is unclear how this particular language can be enforced, in light of a property owner's limited latitude to inquire about a resident's disability. The bill has already passed from the House and awaits further debate in the Senate.

Source: Florida House of Representatives, North Dakota Legislative Council