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Breed bans: What you need to know about keeping your pets legally in Florida

Overall, Florida is a pet-friendly state. But, in certain areas, the breed of your furry friend may not be allowed.

TAMPA, Fla. — If you're moving to Florida with your pets, you'll want to know the details on keeping a pet legally, as well as the health standards required by the state. Luckily, Florida does have some protections for certain animal owners so you don't risk losing your animal after moving.  

Once you’re in Florida with your furry friends, you’re going to want to check your county website for regulations on pet licenses. All dogs and cats over four months old are required to have a license in Florida, but the specifics of those licenses can vary.

Some counties choose to charge you based on if your dog is spayed or not, but here in Pinellas County, it’s just a flat rate of 20 dollars for one year or 40 dollars for three years. Your renewal date for that license will follow your pet’s rabies vaccination expiration date. Your pets, including animals like ferrets, are required by Florida law to have up-to-date rabies vaccinations.

Licenses are pretty straightforward, and you’ll be reminded of a renewal date. But, there's a super important part about keeping pets, and that’s housing.

In the Tampa Bay area, you’re in luck, because pets are pretty widely accepted and lead very social lives here. However, you’ll still come across housing that either doesn’t allow pets or has a list of restricted breeds.

At some apartments, your dog may be considered a restricted breed and may not allow the animal to live there. Before moving into the complex, you'll want to check their regulations. 

Breed restriction exceptions can be granted for emotional support animals, which have different rights from your average pet. ESAs aren’t limited to just dogs and cats. You can have small birds, rabbits, rodents, fish, and even turtles as emotional support animals.

You’ll also be able to keep them in housing that doesn’t allow pets. State and federal laws say landlords also can’t impose any breed or weight restrictions on an ESA.

However, it’s important you get your ESA approved through the proper channels. Both Florida law and the Fair Housing Act say you must receive a letter from a licensed health care professional, confirming your need for an ESA to live with you in your home.

You can’t get a certificate, or registration, or even some kind of card that says they’re an ESA. If you see these online, they won’t work. However, you can consult with a health care professional online, and they can email you a letter for submission.

You can still consult someone in person if you choose, but if you need a letter quickly, or can’t go in person, going online may be your best bet.

If you’ve managed to be approved for an Emotional Support Animal, there are some rights that you now have, and you need to know these. Your housing provider may not tell you.

Let's talk money. Typically, when you move into a new place, you will have to pay a pet deposit of a few hundred dollars, along with monthly pet rent. Those costs can really add up too.

But, not with an ESA. Housing providers are prohibited from charging pet-related fees for an ESA, and that includes the initial pet deposit. Be sure to speak up about it, because if you’ve paid that deposit and then your animal qualifies as an ESA, you can get that money back.

When it comes to the actual letter you’ll submit to your landlord, housing providers are not allowed to ask for sensitive details about your health condition and cannot require your healthcare professional to use a specific form.

Additionally, the Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for housing providers to refuse a reasonable accommodation that a person with a disability needs to have equal opportunity to enjoy where they live. The only way your request for an ESA can be denied by a housing provider is if your animal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others or poses a direct threat of damage to property.

If your ESA does cause damage to the property, you’ll be responsible for paying for those damages, but it’s typically taken out of the security deposit you paid when you moved in.

When it comes to restricted breeds, the list can vary, but typically dogs like Chow Chows, Pit Bulls, and German Shepherds are common to see listed as restricted. 

However some activists in Florida disagree, and earlier this year, there was a chance that breed bans could be lifted.

A few months ago, a piece of legislation made its way through the Florida Senate, basically saying that dog aggression shouldn’t be based on breed, but on behavior.

Specifically in Miami-Dade County, pit bull breeds are banned, and some owners have felt frustration about labeling an entire breed as aggressive.

The bill actually passed in the senate, giving some hope to dog owners, but it was killed in the House in March.

It’s unclear if there will be any new pieces of legislation to combat labeling aggressive breeds, but for now, owners will have to deal with those bans and restrictions.

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