An emotional support animal or a loophole?

Emotional Support Animals (ESA) are gaining in popularity around the world. Needless to say, we are seeing animals in more places than ever including flights, restaurants, hotels, and more. Emotional support animals offer life support to individuals suffering from emotional or mental disorders and allow them to live their lives to the fullest of their ability. Unlike service animals like guide dogs or seizure dogs, emotional support animals are often pets who can gain special status. 

Although most of us think of dogs and cats as emotional support animals, a variety of animals may be eligible. Needless to say, this has caused some friction and difficulties for many condo and homeowner associations that either prohibit pets altogether or at least have size restrictions for animals.

ESA certification is easy and convenient

To further complicate the matter for various homeowner/condo associations and landlords, the ESA certification process is easier than ever. In fact, many consultations and certifications may be completed online.

One area that should be closely watched is the timing of these certifications. For example: a tenant is denied a pet because it exceeds a size restriction. Later on the tenant returns with a ESA certification in order to be allowed to keep the animal on the premises. Can this be done?

For starters, the weight or size of a ESA is irrelevant. If the pet is a true ESA, it is not subject to pet restrictions based on weight, size or even breed. That is because the emotional support animal is viewed as a medical device and not as a dog, cat, etc… In the above example, the bigger issue is the timing of when the ESA documentation was provided.

Assuming the disability is not readily apparent, the association is permitted to request reasonably reliable medical documentation from a health care provider in the relevant field. This information should provide the board with a sufficient basis to determine whether the emotional support animal is necessary to allow full use and enjoyment of the premises. In the event that the letter from the medical professional is dated after the original denial, this may mean that the person only sought the medical opinion when it became necessary to find a way to bring the animal onto the premises. Alternatively, it could just mean that the pet owner has been receiving valuable medical care for years but never previously requested the letter.


The topic of emotional support animals is always accompanied by controversy. With this said, it is highly recommended that landlords and homeowner or condo associations consult an attorney when embarking on these issues. Due to the fact that there are both Florida and federal laws governing this issue, it is wise to have legal representation.

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REALTOR® with Live South Florida Realty, Inc.