OWNERS BEWARE, IF YOU ARE FRAUDULENTLY CLAIMING YOU HAVE A SERVICE ANIMAL, YOU CAN NOW BE CHARGED WITH A MISDEMEANOR

In Florida, since 2012, there has been a statute that prevents discrimination against disabled persons who require the use of a “service animal”.  It can be found at Florida Statute 413.08.  This statute covers discrimination regarding public employment, public accommodations and housing accommodations. This statute was amended in 2020 to include a criminal penalty for persons who fraudulently claim the need for a service animal.  Contact your local Jacksonville criminal attorney to assist you if you have been charged with a misdemeanor for falsely representing you need a service animal.

Under Florida statute 413.08 it defines an individual with a disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working.  A “housing accommodation” would be any real property or portion of the real property that is used or occupied as a home, residence or sleeping place of one or more persons in which the occupants rent or lease the premises. A “public accommodation” would be a common carrier, airplane, motor vehicle, railroad train, motor bus, streetcar, boat or other mode of public transportation; it also includes hotels, timeshares and other places to which the general public is invited.  A “service animal” under this statute is limited to a dog or miniature horse that is 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 performed by the animal must be directly related to the person’s disability.  It specifically states that a service animal is not a pet.  If you think you are being discriminated against because of your “service animal”, contact your local Jacksonville family law attorney.

This is different from an “emotional support animal” who does not require training to do work, perform tasks, provide assistance, or provide therapeutic emotional support.  Emotional support animals may also be the disabled person’s pet.  There is a separate statute that prohibits discrimination in housing to persons with a disability or disability-related need for an “emotional support animal”.  That statute is Florida statute 760.27 and it deals with public housing.  Both statutes address the fact that the public accommodation or housing provider cannot impose a deposit or surcharge on the individual with a disability as a precondition to permitting the service animal or emotional support animal to accompany the individual with the disability.  Under both statutes, the individual with the disability is liable for any damages caused by the service animal or emotional support animal.  Under both statutes, the individual with the disability is responsible for the supervision of the animal and most provide for the care and maintenance of the animal.  Both statutes require the service animal or emotional support animal to be in compliance with vaccination requirements.  Contact your local Jacksonville family law attorney if you feel you are being discriminated against because of your “service animal” or “emotional support animal”.

One of the most significant differences in the two statutes is that under Florida Statute 413.08 there are criminal penalties.  Any employer or person, firm or corporation providing housing accommodations who discriminates against an individual with a disability, commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.  Likewise, a person who knowingly and willfully misrepresents himself or herself, through conduct or verbal or written notice, as using a “service animal” being qualified to use a service animal or as a trainer of a service animal commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.  Under Florida Statute 760.27 regarding “emotional support animals” there are no criminal provisions.

If you think you are being discriminated against by your employer, any public accommodations or housing accommodations, contact your Jacksonville family attorney today.

 

 

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