Emotional Support Animals

By: Dan Rich
Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A.

Q: What is an emotional support animal, and how does it differ from a service animal?

 A: Have you ever walked into a restaurant to see a teacup Chihuahua locking eyes with you from across the room? If so, you probably were wondering how this precious little guy’s owner was able to bring an animal into an eating establishment. It may be because this Chihuahua has been labelled as his owner’s emotional support animal, or “ESA”. Americans commonly treat their pets as another member of the family. But while most keep their pets at home, some bring their pets everywhere they go, including local businesses.

While ESAs are recognized under federal law, they do not have unfettered access. Federal law currently requires accommodations for ESAs in housing decisions and when traveling on an airplane. A claim that an ESA has a right to be in a public place is misguided, because an ESA differs from a service animal. A service animal is “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability,” whereas an ESA “provides a therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental disability.” Under federal law, a service animal is permitted to go anywhere, including public places.

When a business is faced with a pet owner attempting to make reservations for himself and his dog, the business must quickly decide whether it is dealing with a service animal or an ESA. To help decide, the law permits the business to ask the following, and only the following, two questions:

  1. Whether the animal is required because of a disability; and
  2. What “work or task” the animal has been trained to perform.

Under Florida law, if access is denied and the animal was in fact a service animal, a public establishment can face criminal penalties. Most businesses prudently open the floodgates to most pets with legally sufficient answers to the above questions, because doing so is safer then facing criminal prosecution.

While emotional support from an animal can be a wonderful and necessary thing, it causes a rift among the service animal community. Mislabeled ESAs can be disruptive and disobedient, in turn stigmatizing service animals and their disabled owners.

Affected businesses should consider investing resources to train their employees to properly address requests for animal accommodation.

The February 11th edition of “The Law” will discuss the tax benefits of a 1031 exchange when buying and selling real estate.

 Dan Rich is an attorney with the Lakeland law firm Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A. Questions can be submitted online to thelaw@clarkcampbell-law.com.

REEP Credit

By: Justin P. Callaham, LL.M.
Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A.

Q: Planning ahead for my 2016 taxes, can I get tax credits or deductions for installing energy efficient products in my home?

A: Yes, at least two federal tax credits are available for such installations during 2016. The federal Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 extended the Residential Energy Efficient Property (“REEP”) credit through 2021. The REEP credit is equal to 30% of all qualified solar electric and solar water heating property expenditures made during the year. Solar electric expenditures are incurred purchasing or installing devices using solar power to generate household electricity. Solar water heating expenditures require that the device heats water used in your home and derives at least half of its energy from the sun. For example, if during 2016 you pay $6,000 to purchase and install solar panels at your home and an additional $4,000 for a pool heater deriving at least half of its energy from the sun, you would be entitled to a $3,000 (or 30% of the $10,000 total expense) REEP credit against your 2016 federal income taxes. To receive the full benefit of the REEP credit program, you must make the qualified expenditures before the end of 2019, as the applicable credit will be reduced to 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021.

In addition to the REEP credit, Congress also extended the non-business energy property credit. Under that program, you will receive a credit equal to 10% of all amounts paid for qualified energy efficient improvements, which can include insulation, exterior windows, skylights, exterior doors, and certain roofs. To qualify, the improvements must meet or exceed Version 6.0 of the Energy Star program requirements set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Generally, a product’s packaging will list their Energy Star rating. This credit is nonrefundable and cannot exceed $500 during all taxable periods, and no more than $200 of the credit may be attributable to windows. This credit was retroactively extended, meaning that you also receive a credit for qualifying expenditures made during 2015.

The January 28th edition of “The Law” will discuss so-called “emotional support animals”.

 Justin Callaham is an attorney with the Lakeland law firm Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A. Questions can be submitted online to thelaw@clarkcampbell-law.com.