FLORIDA LAW ON SERVICE ANIMALS
Many of us have seen a person with a dog on a leash the last time we were at a restaurant or store. Questions from business owners regarding whether they must allow service animals into their businesses are becoming more and more common. While some businesses may be dog friendly, dogs are not allowed inside restaurants unless they are a service animal. Many restaurant owners say it is frustrating that there is no way to identify a service animal as there is no service animal registry or license recognized and business owners are not legally allowed to ask for proof that the animal is a service animal.
What is the law regarding service animals?
Under Florida law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities may bring their service animals to all “public accommodations,” such as restaurants, museums, hotels, and stores.
These laws also require those who operate transportation services, like car services and public transit, to allow service animals. Although Florida law and the ADA differ in some ways, public accommodations in Florida must comply with both sets of laws and their patrons are entitled to rely on whichever law provides the most protections.
What is a service animal?
Florida’s service animal law applies to animals that are trained to do work or perform tasks for someone with a physical, mental, psychiatric, sensory, or intellectual disability. The work the animal does must be directly related to the person’s disability.
Neither law covers pets or what some call “emotional support animals,” which is defined as animals that provide a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional disabilities or conditions. Although these animals often have therapeutic benefits, they are not individually trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers. Under the ADA and Florida law, owners of public accommodations are not required to allow emotional support animals, only service animals.
Which Public Accommodations must allow service animals in Florida?
Floridas service animal law covers public transportation, hotels, timeshares, places of amusement, resorts, and any other place to which the public is invited. You may bring your service animal into any of these places. Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is very broad. It includes:
- hotels and other lodging establishments
- public transportation terminals, depots, and stations
- restaurants and other places that serve food and drink
- sales or rental establishments
- service establishments
- any place of public gathering, such as an auditorium or convention center
- places of entertainment and exhibit, like theaters or sports stadiums
- gyms, bowling alleys, and other places of exercise or recreation
- recreational facilities, such as zoos and parks
- libraries, museums, and other places where items are collected or displayed publicly
- educational institutions
- social service centers
What are the rules for service animals?
A business owner may not ask the person to disclose their disability and they may not ask for proof that the service animal is in fact a service animal but legally they may only ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what tasks the animal has been trained to perform.
Business owners are not responsible for the care and supervision of the animal and the care and supervision of the animal is solely the responsibility of the owner of the animal. The business is not required to provide care, food or a special location for the service animal.
Business owners may exclude any animal, including a service animal, from their facility when that animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. However, business owners should give the individual with a disability who uses the service animal the option of continuing to enjoy the goods and services on the premises.
Under applicable laws, there is liability for falsely representing animals as a service animal. But there are also potential criminal and civil repercussions for a business owner who discriminates against a disabled individual.
Our advice to our clients that are affected by these laws is to post a sign in a conspicuous place at their business stating their service animal policy, A typical policy can be as simple as:
At ______ , a service animal is a dog or miniature horse that is trained to do work or perform tasks for, and to assist, an individual with a disability.
Service animals must be under the control of the owner at all times and should remain on a leash or in a harness. Our employees are not able to take control of service animals.
Depending on the type of business, additional information can be posted such as where the animals are not allowed (e.g. amusement parks are not required to allow service animals on rides). We also caution our clients to train their employees not to ask any questions other than the 2 questions that are allowed. Lastly, unless the service animal is acting erratically, we recommend that our employees exercise caution and allow the service animals into their establishment.