The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recognizes the need of some persons with disabilities for an assistance animal, and the legal obligation of Florida housing providers to make reasonable accommodations to allow for such animals.
Persons with various types of disabilities may need an assistance animal in their home to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing. These disabilities may or may not be known or obvious to a housing provider.
What is an Florida Emotional Support Animal
Assistance animals do work, perform tasks, assist, and/or provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities that affect major life activities. A trained Florida service animal is considered an assistance animal. They are not pets and generally are animals commonly kept in the household.
Examples of tasks include guiding an individual who is blind or providing therapeutic emotional support with respect to an individual’s mental disability affecting a major life activity.
Housing providers in Florida may not exclude or charge a fee or deposit for assistance animals, including emotional support animals and service animals.
Fair Housing Act (FHA)
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) makes it unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation that a person with a disability in Florida may need in order to have equal opportunity to enjoy and use a dwelling.
Housing discrimination is conduct in which an individual or family is treated unequally when trying to buy, rent, lease, sell, or finance a dwelling based on certain ‘protected categories’ known as ‘classes’ like:
- national origin
- or familial status [pregnant or presence of children under 18yrs of age].
Housing discrimination is often misidentified, ignored, or it just goes completely undetected.
Florida landlords are allowed to deny housing on the basis of legitimate business reasons. A few examples of this include credit history, income, references from past landlords, and past behavior, such as damaging property.
Emotional Support Animals Notice For Emotional Support Animals And Service Animals
Over the years, HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) has issued guidance clarifying the rights and obligations under the FHA regarding assistance animals. Here, HUD’s best practices includes information regarding:
- The difference between assistance animals and pets;
- The types of accommodations that a housing provider may need to grant, such as exceptions to no-animal policies, deposits, or fees that are ordinarily charged for animals;
- Assessing whether an animal is a service animal or an assistance animal other than a service animal (sometimes referred to as a support animal);
- Permissible inquiries regarding assistance animals, particularly if the individual’s disability or disability-related need for an animal is non-obvious or non-observable, or not otherwise known to the housing provider;
- The type of verification and documentation that a housing provider may request regarding an individual’s disability and disability-related need for an assistance animal;
- Descriptions of the typical types of assistance animals, an example of a unique type of animal that provides disability-related assistance and guidance on handling requests involving more than one animal; and
- Other best practices regarding reasonable accommodations for assistance animals.
What’s Covered Under The Federal Housing Act
HUD’s guidance applies only to Florida housing, including public and common use areas of housing developments and facilities covered by the FHA, including apartments, condominiums, cooperatives, single family homes, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes, and other types of housing covered by the FHA. Some types of short-term temporary shelter are not covered by the FHA.
Florida Housing Exceptions Under the Federal Housing Act
There are four major exceptions to the Fair Housing Act:
- Single family homes, as long as:
- The home is also rented or sold by the owner;
- The owner does not own more than three homes at a time;
- The advertising for the sale or rental was not discriminatory; and
- The owner did not use a real estate or broker
- Rooms or units in a building with a maximum of four units, as long as the owner is living in one of those units;
- Rooms or units owned either directly or indirectly by a religious organization. This is true only if preference is only given on the basis of that membership, and membership in that religion is not restricted by race, color, or nationality; and
- Rooms or units owned by a private organization for non-commercial use, as long as preference is only given on the basis of membership to that organization and is not restricted by race, color, or nationality
Fair Housing Act Complaints in Florida
Fair Housing Act complaints involving requests for reasonable accommodation for emotional support animals and service animals. account for nearly 30% of all FHA complaints, where the majority of those complaints involve the denial of a reasonable accommodation to a person who has a physical or mental disability that the housing provider cannot readily observe.
The Proliferation of Fake Documentation Bought Online
The online sale of so-called “certificates” for emotional support animals and service animals. is often a scam. According to HUD, “documentation from websites that sell certificates, registrations, and licensing documents and animal gear for animals to anyone who answers certain questions or participates in a short interview and pays a fee is not sufficient to reliably establish that an individual has a non-observable disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal.”
Do You Think You’ve Been Discriminated
If you feel you have been discriminated against, it is important that you begin by filing a complaint with the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. Complaints must be filed within one year of the last date of the alleged discrimination. Unfortunately, most complaints don’t make it past the filing stage.
Can a Fair Housing Complaint Help Me
A fair housing complaint is a federal administrative process investigated HUD. This is not a state or local civil issue, so Courts are bypassed, thereby making participation easier.
HUD has the authority to take depositions, issue subpoenas and interrogatories, and compel testimony or documents – so a fair housing complaint is feared by any property owner, landlord, property management firm, RE Agent, mortgage broker or anyone involved in the housing process.
HUD can issue a charge of discrimination against anyone, or any organization, if reasonable cause exists to believe discrimination has occurred. A Charge of Discrimination could lead to serious consequences which are almost always avoided by negotiating a mutually agreeable settlement called a Conciliation Agreement.
Simply put- a well-executed fair housing complaint can yield tangible results for any victim of housing discrimination because of the federal leverage is real.
There are also no direct costs associated with filing a fair housing complaint.
Following an investigation, the FHEO will issue its findings, and if required, HUD or the Department of Justice will take legal action against the violator.
Do I Need Florida Attorney for Help with Housing Discrimination Laws
Although an attorney is not required to file a complaint with HUD, you may want to consult with a well-qualified and knowledgeable Florida lawyer who specializes in housing discrimination. The attorney can assist you with:
- Writing, evidencing, and filing your Fair Housing complaint
- Assist in the negotiation of a settlement or resolution
- Provide you with fair housing education as well as counseling
Additionally, they can represent you in a court of law as needed.