Florida Tightens Up its Service Animal Laws

A much needed update to Florida's laws governing service animals was signed into law yesterday (June 11, 2015).

Here's the link to the full text of House Bill 71 that shows the numerous revisions to Florida Statute Section 413.08.

It appears that Florida's lawmakers are taking some positive steps to combat what I've referred to as the "service dog scam":

  • The definition of "service animal" in F.S. 413(2)(d) is revised and now more in line with the definition found in the Americans with Disabilities Act.  In particular, a "service animal" in Florida is now limited to a dog or a miniature horse, and a "service animal" must perform a specific task--merely serving as a "crime-deterrent" or providing emotional support, well-being, comfort and support is not sufficient for a dog or miniature horse to qualify as a "service animal".
  • The service animal must be under control of its handler and in most cases must have a harness, leash, or other tether.
  • Newly created F.S. 413.08(9) provides that a person "who knowingly and willfully misrepresents herself or himself, through conduct or verbal or written notice, as using a service animal and being qualified to use a service animal or as a trainer of a service animal commits a misdemeanor of the second degree" and must perform thirty hours of community service for an organization that serves individuals with disabilities, or for another entity or organization chosen by the sentencing court.  The offender has six months to complete that community service.

ROC board members and managers should note that there is a new provision--F.S. Section 413.08(6)(c) that specifies that the rights and responsibilities of housing providers and individuals with disabilities in regards to "assistance animals" are not limited by the provisions of the laws regarding "service animals".

These revisions to Florida Statute Section 413.08 take effect on July 1, 2015 and represent a small but important first step in dealing with the "service dog scam".

I'll look forward to your comments and questions about these changes.
 

 

ADA Pool Accessibility FAQs and An ABA Forum

Carol Grondzik,one of my colleagues in our firm's Tallahassee office, just forwarded a link that answers many frequently asked questions about the pool accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.   As I mentioned in one of my earlier blog entries this year, those requirements were set to go into effect in March but have been delayed until at least May 21.  I hope the followers of my blog find this link helpful and informative.  As always, I suggest that ROC managers and board members obtain professional guidance in determining whether their community's facilities must comply with any of these accessibility requirements and if so what type of equipment will satisfy the ADA standards.

I'm very excited to be spending a few days later this month in Washington, DC at the American Bar Association's Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development Law.  I've been invited to be one of the panelists speaking about Cooperatives as a Tool for Housing and Social Enterprise.  I'll also have the opportunity to attend workshops and seminars on Fair Housing and other issues affecting resident owned communities.  The Forum is being held from May 23 through May 25 and I'm sure I'll be posting entries on this event on my return.

 

 

 

 

ADA Pool Accessibility Deadline Extended for at Least 60 Days

A set of new regulations created in 2010 under the Americans with Disabilities Act was scheduled to go into effect on March 15, 2012.  Late last week, the deadline for compliance with these regulations was extended for 60 days with the possibility of an additional extension of time to allow for clarification and further discussion of the impact and manner of implementing and complying with these rules.

A portion of these rules created no small amount of uncertainty for ROCs with community pools as these new regulations seemed to require that any "public pool" have at least one (and in some cases two) means of accessibility for persons with physical disabilities. 

What exactly constitutes a "public pool"? 

I'm comfortable with advising the board or manager of a ROC that allows only its residents or the family, tenants, or invited guests to use the pool that the community pool is "residential" or "private" rather than public.

However, pools in communities that host swimming meets open to the public, or communities that are partially or entirely designed for short term occupancy by recreational vehicle owners would appear to fall within the "public" arena and these new accessibility rules would seem to apply. 

I've spoken with several communities that don't know whether or not their pools are "private" or "public" and others that aren't sure of the type of accessibility equipment required and we're hopeful that the additional time will provide all of us with the answers needed to determine whether a community needs to bring its pool into compliance with these new accessibility standards and, if so, what equipment will be allowed to meets these standards.

For now, at least, ROCs that need to comply will have some additional time to do so.

Stay tuned and I hope to see some of you at the Expo in Charlotte County on March 27th!

 

Beware of the "Service Dog Scam"

It's no secret that the Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.   An community association thus must make a "reasonable accommodation" to a disabled current or prospective resident who requires that accommodation to "use and enjoy a dwelling".

We've recently been contacted about homeowners in resident owned communities claiming that their animals are "service animals".   One association is currently dealing with a unit owner who had previously been allowed to have a dog in her home as a reasonable accommodation even though this ROC was a "no pet" community.   This unit owner apparently has replaced that dog with another dog and is alleging that this new dog is a "service dog," and can be walked throughout the community, even though the reasonable accommodation granted to the unit owner was conditioned on the dog remaining on the unit owner's lot while in the community.

The unit owner provided the manager with "Service Dog Paper Work" that included an "identification card" for the pet stating "I'm a Service Dog In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990".  Another card identified the dog by name, date of birth, registration number, and "handler" (identified by the unit owner's last name).

Becoming a "service animal" requires much more than a few papers, cards, or other items provided by companies gladly accepting the $150 (or more) from pet owners who want to "identify their canine helper" as a "service dog".

Here's what the U.S. Department of Justice has to say about "service animals" as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act:

  • Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities--miniature horses are the only other animals that can qualify as "service animals"
  • Service animals are working animals, not pets
  • The work or task a dog has been trained to perform must be directly related to the person's disability
  • Finally, dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act

In other words, the documents provided by these companies do not--without more evidence--prove that a pet qualifies as a "service animal".

Florida Statute Section 413.08 defines "service animal" and does not specifically prohibit species other than dogs or miniature ponies from qualifying as "service animals" but does require that the animal be trained to perform tasks for individuals with a disability and also specifies that a service animal is not a pet.

We've determined that the company that provided this unit owner with the "service animal certification kit" for her pet was not affiliated with the U.S. Department of Justice or any governmental agency charged with enforcing the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Any association confronted with these "service animal" papers should contact its attorney immediately--and any unit owner that has paid for these documents should strongly consider contacting the Federal Trade Commission.

I'd like to hear from other communities that have been confronted with these "service dog" certification papers.

 

Fido, Foreclosures, and Florida versus the Feds

I'm posting the links to three recent articles for my blog readers:

  • The first story involves the efforts of a condominium association in Jupiter, Florida to use a dog's individual DNA to help identify canine offenders (and their owners) of the community's "pooper scooper" rules.
  •  The aggressive approach taken by a  homeowners' association in Pembroke Pines to collect delinquent maintenance and other fees--brought about in no small part by the foreclosure crisis--is the focus of the second article.
  • Finally, a very sobering report from the Palm Beach Post on the battle brewing between Florida's emergency managers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency as to whether every emergency shelter in the state is required to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.   According to this article, the cost to bring each of the hundreds of emergency shelters in Florida into compliance with the ADA may exceed One Billion Dollars--and the last time I checked, our state doesn't have that kind of money in its cookie jar.

I hope you enjoy reading these three stories and look forward to your comments.

 

 

Another Seminar Date and Another ROC Group

We've set the date and location of the seminar for the board members and managers of resident owned communities in the Lee, Collier, and Charlotte county area:

This event will start at 10 a.m. and end around noon.  Just like the other seminars posted in my last blog entry, admission is free and so are the refreshments and opportunities to mix and mingle with fellow ROC members.  

We'll be covering several very interesting topics at our December seminars:

  • Updates on dealing with pet and caregiver requests under the Fair Housing and Americans With Disabilities Acts
  • Privacy issues facing managers and board members in resident owned communities
  • Recent legislative changes to Florida's statutes governing ROCs
  • As always, attendees will have time for questions and comments.

Please send an email to Karen Midlam (kmidlam@lutzbobo.com), Kathy Sawdo (ksawdo@lutzbobo.com) or to me (sgordon@lutzbobo.com) if you'd like to attend any of our December seminars.   Let us know which event you'll be attending, the number of attendees from your community, and whether you'll need directions to the seminar.

We hope to see you in December at one of these seminars.

There's a ROC group that 's been formed in East Pasco County (EPROC) and I wanted to post the dates of their upcoming meetings:

  • November 19th
  • December 10th
  • January 14th
  • February 11th
  • March 11th
  • April 8th

If you're a member of a resident-owned community in that area and want more information, please send me an email and I'll point you in the right direction.  The EPROC meetings begin at 9 a.m. and the November meeting is at Betmar Acres.

EPROC is off to a great start and I look forward to speaking at that November 19th meeting.

ROCs and Civil Rights

I just returned from a brief trip to Memphis, Tennessee and visited the National Civil Rights Museum, which is located at the site of the murder of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The museum has incorporated much of the Lorraine Hotel (including the room in which Dr. King stayed and the balcony outside that room where he was killed) as well as the apartment across the street from the hotel where James Earl Ray aimed and fired from a bathroom window and took Dr. King's life.   I recall the exact moment when I learned of Dr. King's death and to be able to view the site of his assassination in an "up close and personal" manner was an extremely powerful experience for me.   I highly recommend a visit to the museum if you are in the Memphis area and suggest that you view the short movie at the museum called "The Witness" before beginning to tour the exhibits.

As I made my way through the museum, I was reminded that many of the freedoms we take for granted today are the result of great sacrifices and courageous efforts by Americans of all colors and beliefs.   I couldn't help but marvel that less than fifty years ago, Dr. King was gunned down simply because many of his fellow countrymen could not accept the fact that all Americans were entitled to certain basic rights.   The fact that many of the injustices that Dr. King sought to overcome have been remedied speaks volumes to his legacy and to the laws that our federal and local legislators have enacted during the past five decades.

My visit to the museum reminded me about the direct connection between the Civil Rights laws and the Fair Housing and Disability laws that often create divisive problems for board members and other residents in the communities we work with.   Those Fair Housing and Disability laws built upon the earlier Civil Rights laws and extend rights of equality to which all Americans are entitled.  The underlying philosophy of all of these laws is simply that no American should be deprived of certain opportunities, whether in employment, or voting, or obtaining housing, simply because of his or her color or religion or disability.   Unless our legislators carve out an exception (such as the Housing for Older Persons Act), it's that underlying philosophy that should guide ROC board members.

Some forty-two years after Dr. King's death, it's an important lesson for all of us to remember.

Thanks to our friends at Francis I in Sebring for hosting last week's well-attended seminar.  We'll be at Windward Isles in Sarasota and Marco Shores in Naples this week and at Caribbean Isles in Apollo Beach during the last week in February.  If you'd like to attend one of these free seminars and haven't yet rsvp'd, please contact either Karen Midlam at kmidlam@lutzbobo.com or Kathy Sawdo at ksawdo@lutzbobo.com.  I hope to see you at one of these events.