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Pushback on faking emotional support animal claims

With no way to verify emotional support animal claims, beach condo leaders were updated on laws aimed at faking it.

Florida House Bill 209 would prohibit falsifying written documents or misrepresentation. Senate Bill 1084 would do the same and hold the person liable for damages the animal caused.

There’s also a targeted lobbying campaign called HonestESA to “curb some abuses.”

“How many believe they’re all real?”  attorney Donna DiMaggio Berger asked the Beach Condo Association of Boca Raton and Highland Beach. “Some 89 percent of people want some restrictions on pets. It’s a huge issue in multi-family buildings.”

Associations are spending more each year to evaluate ESA requests, said Berger, in Becker & Poliakoff’s Community Association practice. “ESAs are ripe for abuse. We want to strike the right balance.”

Web sites allow anyone to get a certificate for an emotional support animal, she said at the meeting in Stratford Arms. There’s no such thing as a certification from a medical professional. “This would do away with going online and printing out a certification,” she said.

“Florida law looks at these animals as an extension of a disabled person,” she said.

So, you can’t restrict an animal in an elevator. But no animals are allowed in a pool or on furniture. “You can create the proper protocol for an animal, such as limiting animals in a gym or where food is served. And situations like crowded elevators, where people can be allergic or afraid of pets.

The pending bills aren’t perfect, but “our first baby step,” she added.

Last year the bills didn’t move out of committee. But this year they have a chance at passage, she said. They’re aimed at any person who knowingly falsifies an ESA request, she added.

Association president Emily Gentile presided at the meeting. Boca Helping Hands’ executive director Greg Hazle detailed their job training, mentoring, and affordable health and dental care. Their pantry bag distribution alone helps 20,000 people a year, he said. They partner with 12 schools and provide food in three locations. “Anybody came in for a hot meal,” he said about their daily lunch program.

By Marci Shatzman

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