Service Animals at Private Properties Open to the Public

Service animals play an important role in our society and across South Florida. They help disabled persons in various ways and create a better quality of life for disabled persons. Service animals are working animals and under Florida law only two types of animals qualify as service animals, dogs and miniature horses. Florida state law and the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) are the controlling laws regarding this issue. The ADA primarily recognizes dogs and only those “that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” The federal government through the ADA also recognizes miniature horses. These tasks may include: guiding individuals who are blind, alerting people who are deaf to any possible danger, calming someone with PTSD for any reason, protecting someone from deadly allergies in food or food products around them, and a variety of other important tasks. 

Service animals are working animals and therefore by law not emotional support animals nor pets. Service dogs, and in certain cases miniature horses, have specific roles in a disabled person’s life that provide support and safety. That role is what grants service animals access to all places that the public has access to. This ability is legally protected at both the federal and state level. Any breach of such protections may open up a company or individual to disability discrimination claims. Such claims give rise to potential serious litigation issues. If you are facing such legal challenges, please contact EPGD Business Law for a consultation.

Service Animals Access to Private Property in Florida

There are rules and regulations that guide what private businesses, private organizations, and private individuals who operate places accessible to the public can ask and request from disabled persons using service animals. Most importantly, under the ADA and Florida law establishments and their staff cannot require individuals to provide documentation that is a registered service animal. Establishments are also not allowed to charge extra for service animals to be allowed into an area. But service animals must be under the control of their owner and/or the person using their services. However, those operating private places and properties accessible to the public may ask two questions. These questions are 

  1. Is the dog or miniature horse a service animal required because of a disability? And; 
  2. What work or task has the dog or miniature horse been trained to perform? 

These questions may help your management team or any establishment operating private property open to the public put restrictions on what animals they allow into their space or private property. 

Emotional support animals, which can cover a wide range of animals, are not supported by the ADA nor Florida law. Private businesses and owners of private spaces can limit what animals they want to allow into their space at their discretion but must allow the service animals recognized by the ADA and Florida law. If the applicable laws do not support an animal being granted entry to a private space or property, then the management of an establishment that grants such space may prevent such animal from entering its premises. 

Here is an example to help visualize: a patron wants to enter a French bistro in Miami with their cat, claiming it is a service animal. The bistro may tell the patron that they cannot enter with their cat because it is not a dog nor a miniature horse, the recognized animals under both the ADA and Florida law. If the person claims it is an emotional support animal that they need and states they have rights to enter with the cat, the bistro may not allow them to enter without fear of being held liable for any relative reason. This is simply a scenario to help understand this complicated legal concept, it is not legal advice. If you have questions about this topic or if a similar situation arises for you and your company the experienced attorneys at EPGD Business Law would be happy to answer your questions during a free consultation. 

What if I Own Property not Normally Open to the Public but Hosting a Public Event? 

Owners or those managing private property for an event for the public at a property or space that is not usually open to the public have some wiggle room in denying access to service animals under both the ADA and Florida law. If those managing private property do not want animals in their property or space for any reason, then they have support in the Florida statutes to deny entry of such animals. 

Florida Statute §413.08(3) states that “(3) An individual with a disability has the right to be accompanied by a service animal in all areas of a public accommodation that the public or customers are normally permitted to occupy.” This may provide some wiggle room in regards to a special event open to the public in a space not normally open to the public, depending on the risk tolerance the owners, operators, and/or managers of the private property or space are willing to take to possible litigation over service animals. Since there are places which “the public or customers” are not normally permitted to occupy, such as a private home, but may be open to the public for certain events, current Florida law supports the property’s management and/or owners from not allowing access to service animals for such spaces. Since, for example, homes or private garages are not spaces normally accessible to the public, the ADA and Florida law do not require the home or garage to be accessible to service animals. 

Here is another example to help visualize: a foundation hosting a fundraiser at a private home where a foundation member lives in the Vizcaya neighborhood of Miami would likely be able to not allow service animals into their home for the event. The fundraiser’s location is in a private home that is not normally accessible to the public except for the special event they are hosting. The owners hosting the event could not want animals on their property for any reason as it is up to their discretion for this scenario. However, this is not formal legal advice and you should reach out to the talented and experienced attorneys at EPGD Business Law should you have any questions about potential litigation. Those operating private spaces for special events open to the public may have questions on a variety of topics in regards to hosting special events. EPGD Business Law would be happy to assist. 

EPGD Business Law is located in beautiful Coral Gables. Call us at (786) 837-6787, or contact us through the website to schedule a consultation.

*Disclaimer: this blog post is not intended to be legal advice. We highly recommend speaking to an attorney if you have any legal concerns. Contacting us through our website does not establish an attorney-client relationship.*

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Eric Gros-Dubois

Founding partner Eric Gros-Dubois established EPGD Business Law in 2013. With over a decade of experience expanding the firm and leading it to its current success, Eric now primarily manages the corporate division of EPGD. Given Eric’s educational background, holding both a JD and MBA, combined with his own unique experience of starting a business from scratch and growing it to a multi-million dollar firm, he brings a specialized and invaluable perspective to those seeking legal assistance for themselves and their businesses. Having now instilled his same values in our team of skilled corporate associates, Eric leads a firm that is always ready, willing, and equipped to handle any and every legal matter that a business owner may have.


*The following comments are not intended to be treated as legal advice. The answer to your question is limited to the basic facts presented. Additional details may heavily alter our assessment and change the answer provided. For a more thorough review of your question please contact our office for a consultation.



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