Upon my weekly visit to Publix supermarket recently, I was met with very large signs stating: “No Pets Allowed. This Includes Emotional Support Animals.”
Well, technically, emotional support animals are not “pets,” but I get what Publix is trying to do. Animals and food just don’t mix. They are cracking down on animals being brought into the store that are not bona fide service animals. Service animals are specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. Service animals differ from emotional support animals or comfort “pets,” which have no specific training and offer only emotional support.
In the Community Association realm, many condominium, homeowners and cooperative associations ask why they cannot prohibit emotional support animals like Publix can? One reason is that the association is governed by the Fair Housing Act (whereas Publix is not); and the association is not a place of public accommodation; whereas Publix is. Those principles effect which rules you must follow.
In Community Associations, even if you are a “no pet” community, the Fair Housing Acts (both the Florida and federal acts) codify and prohibit discrimination in housing against persons with a disability or disability-related need for an emotional support animal. If the disability is not readily apparent, the association can request reasonable information from a health care provider as to the person’s disability and the connection of the disability to the need for the animal. Associations should be careful, however, and seek legal assistance when asking for this information. It is a minefield where missteps can cause the association to be the recipient of a fair housing complaint. In 2020, the Florida Legislature attempted to crack down on fraudulent information or documentation being submitted for an emotional support animal, but there are a few loopholes there too.
But like Publix, it may be possible for community associations to prohibit even emotional support animals in certain common areas like the clubhouse kitchen or the pool (but maybe not the pool deck), due to health regulations. Still, there are hazards in prohibiting emotional support animals anywhere, and a quick check-in with the association attorney may save the association a lot of headache and legal entanglements related to emotional support animals.