Florida Service Dog Laws: A Complete Guide2021-01-15
Under both state and federal law, people with disabilities have the right to bring their service dogs in public places. They also have certain protections for things like housing and travel.
Thanks to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Florida state law, a person with disabilities can bring a service animal into places like museums, restaurants, hotels, and retail stores. These same laws also apply to public transportation.
While there are a few differences between Florida law and the ADA, all public accommodations in Florida need to comply with both laws. People with disabilities also have the entitlement to use whichever law provides the most protection in their circumstances.
If you have a disability, the best way to protect your rights is to know the laws, including what defines a service dog in Florida and which public areas must allow them.
What Defines a Service Dog in Florida?
The ADA defines a service dog as trained to do work or perform tasks for someone with a disability.
The state of Florida uses a similar definition. Florida’s state service animal law applies to any animals trained to perform tasks or work for someone with an intellectual, psychiatric, physical, or sensory disability or mental illness.
In Florida, a service animal doesn’t have to be a dog. However, it typically is.
The law also does not specify that the animal’s work needs to relate directly to the disability. This openness exists because one animal may be able to help people with different disabilities.
For example, someone who has difficulty moving or walking may lean on their dog for added stability and support. On the other hand, that same dog may stop someone who has a mental disability from harming themselves. It also might help someone with post-traumatic stress disorder to relax following triggers. Additionally, the dog can alert the hearing impaired or help guide someone who is blind.
As far as access to public areas goes, only miniature horses and dogs can receive accommodations. However, for housing, this limit does not apply. Besides dogs, other animals may have protections under service animal law in Florida.
One thing to note is that the ADA and Florida laws do not cover emotional support animals. ESAs provide comfort and safety for people with emotional or psychiatric conditions. While ESAs may provide therapeutic advantages, they do not have to undergo training to accomplish specific tasks for their masters.
Since emotional support animals and service dogs are not the same, public areas do not have to accommodate ESAs.
What Public Areas Must Allow Service Dogs?
Florida defines public spaces as anywhere that serves the public. Such places include hotels, public transit, timeshares, amusement parks, resorts, etc.
State law also entails that any person with a disability or the trainer of a service animal must also have the same rights and privileges to access public facilities. The owner or trainer holds liability for any damage the dog may cause.
The Americans with Disabilities Act broadens the definition of public areas. This law requires the following places to provide accommodations:
- Lodging establishments, such as hotels
- Public transit stations and terminals
- Public transit vehicles
- Anywhere that serves food and drink
- Rental establishments
- Sales centers
- Service establishments
- Entertainment centers, such as sports stadiums or movie theatres
- Public gathering places, such as concert halls or convention centers
- Places of recreation or exercise, such as gyms, bowling alleys, and sports courts
- Recreational facilities, like parks or zoos
- Educational institutions, such as schools or colleges
- Places with items on display, like museums, archives, or libraries
- Social service centers
As you can see, this list is quite exhaustive. If you have a service dog in Florida, you can rest assured that you have legal protections. You can bring your companion with you to any public location per state law.
Rules for Your Service Dog
Rules exist concerning the allowance of service dogs on the premises of public accommodations. These rules outline what business owners and public officials can say or do. As well, they encompass your responsibilities as the handler.
Rules and Rights for Public Establishments
One rule for public establishments is that they cannot charge you for bringing a service dog into the premises. Even if a pet deposit is typical at the establishment, they still cannot require you to pay it for your service dog. This distinction exists because pets and service dogs are not the same.
Also, a business cannot demand or require you to provide documentation of your disability or your animal’s training. Business owners can ask whether the service animal is necessary for your disability. They can also ask about the work the animal has undergone training to do.
If a service dog poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others, public accommodation for that service animal is no longer required. This situation hardly ever happens because these animals have surpassed rigorous training. However, if the dog growls or snaps at others in the area, the dog may need to leave.
An establishment also has the right to deny access to a service animal that is out of control or is not housebroken.
Rules and Rights for Handlers
In public, you must keep your animal under control at all times. You must keep it either on a tether or a harness and leash.
If your disability prevents the use of these tools, that is an exception. In these situations, the animal must remain under control through other means, such as signals or even voice commands.
If your dog causes damage to the premises, you will have to pay.
As far as taking care of the animal, you are solely responsible for the supervision and care. Care includes providing food and water and cleaning up feces. You must also identify appropriate locations to bring your animal.
Service Dog Accommodation Laws
Sections of Florida law and the Americans with Disabilities Act outline the public accommodations for service dogs. Let’s take a look at what they say:
Under Florida’s service animal law, housing accommodation is any property used as the residence or sleeping place of someone who rents or leases the property.
Through Florida legal protection, people with disabilities who have service animals have rights to equal housing access. A landlord cannot make you pay extra to live with your service dog. As with public spaces, you are liable for any damages that your service animal may cause to anyone else or the property.
Additionally, the Fair Housing Act (federal) prohibits any form of discrimination against someone based on their disability when buying or renting property. Even a building with a strict “no pets” policy must allow the service animal to reside on the premises.
There are different coverages for the various forms of transportation, including planes, trains, and cars.
Any animal trained to do work or trained to perform tasks for someone with a disability can fly on a plane with you. The airline cannot require proof of disability. However, traveling with an ESA may require additional documentation in advance.
Under Title II of the ADA, you can travel with your service dog by train.
Note here that emotional support animals do not meet the definition of a service animal. Therefore, they are ineligible for this kind of travel. If the travel organization has an established pet policy that covers ESAs, they may allow the pet.
When it comes to taxis, cabs, limos, and rideshares, such as Lyft or Uber, the ADA ensures you have full coverage. You have the right to access the transportation along with your service dog.
Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities
Under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, businesses cannot exclude a service animal from their establishment. They must provide public accommodations to both the canine and the handler.
Protections Against Interference or Injury
Interfering with the rights to accommodation for a service animal is a punishable offense. Any business that denies these rights faces a second-degree misdemeanor. There is a requirement for a minimum of 30 hours of community service within six months with this charge. The volunteer work must be with an institution serving people with disabilities.
Additionally, in Florida Statute Chapter 413.081, the state outlines criminal penalties for those convicted of injuring or interfering with a service animal.
These penalties cover the following:
- Reckless disregard of the use of a service animal by intimidation or obstruction
- Reckless disregard that results in the injury or death of a service animal
- Intentional injury or killing of a service animal
- Allowing another animal to kill or injure a service animal
- Restitution for the owner, including the value of the animal, training expenses, medical expenses, and lost wages
It’s crucial to understand what qualifies as a service dog in Florida and the differences between the laws protecting service animals and emotional support animals.
While both service animals and emotional support animals may both offer comfort, they are not the same. Service dogs trained to work or perform tasks on their handler’s behalf assist people with disabilities. Because of this particular role, they have more rights to accommodations and allowances under Florida state and federal law.
If you are in the process of obtaining a dog trained to support you with a disability, it’s critical to know your rights and responsibilities. To register your canine, contact the Service Dog Registration of America.
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