Senate Bill 1128 is targeting pet owners who falsify emotional support animal documents so they don't have to pay apartment and condo pet fees
Now, ESAs, specifically those verified online, are causing problems on the ground. According to The Daily Commercial, some pet owners in Florida are paying questionable online doctors as low as $22 to provide paperwork that states their pet is a ESA an helps them cope with a mental or emotional condition. Pet owners are doing this to gain access to buildings that don’t allow pets or to avoid paying the pet fees that come with some condos and apartments, not because they need the services of an ESA.
The Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act exempts those with ESAs from paying pet deposits or being denied housing because of their ESA, which had lead to some pet owners abusing these rights.
Florida lawmakers recently introduced bill Senate Bill 1128, sponsored by Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, in an effort to stop those falsifying emotional support animal documents, and protect those with true ESAs.
If passed, SB 1128 would recognize ESAs as animals belonging to individuals with paperwork from a doctor or mental health professional that “verifies that the individual has a disability or a disability-related need and has been under the practitioner’s care or treatment for such disability or need, and the animal provides support to alleviate one or more identified symptoms or effects of the individual’s disability or disability-related need.” This doctor or mental health professional will have to be a real person that the pet owner has a pre-existing relationship with.
SB 1128 specifically calls out ESA paperwork obtained from online doctors, saying that, under the bill, ESA documentation “may not be prepared by a health care practitioner whose exclusive service to the individual with a disability is preparation of the written documentation in exchange for a fee.”
Additionally, SB 1128 states that those who “knowingly and willfully misrepresents herself or himself, through conduct or verbal or written notice, as using an emotional support animal and being qualified to use an emotional support animal commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.”
This second degree misdemeanor could come with a “with a potential 60-day jail sentence and a $500 fine,” reports the Miami Herald.
Diaz told the paper he sponsored this bill because, “you don’t want to turn something that’s so important to people into a joke.”