Service & Emotional Support Animals

As a landlord, you have every right to decide whether or not you will allow pets in your rental property. You might have a strict no-pet policy because you are concerned about the damages a pet might cause to your rental property. However, service animals and emotional support animals are not considered pets. There has been an increasing demand for emotional support animals as well as service animals. Tenants that require service animals or emotional support animals are protected under the Fair Housing Laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act. You must know the difference between service animals / emotional support animals and pets in order to avoid legal problems. 

If your tenant requires a service animal or an emotional support animal you are not permitted to deny the application or to evict the tenant based on that requirement. If you don’t allow a tenant to move in a service animal you could get a lawsuit and a lot of potential liability. Because these animals are not considered pets you cannot charge for any pet fees such as pet deposit. It would be illegal and discriminatory to ask for any extra fees because of the service animal or an emotional support animal. Nevertheless, if there is damaged caused by the service animal you are permitted to withhold money from the tenant security deposit to pay for the damage. 

 

What is a service animal? 

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal: “Service animals are defined as dogs or miniature horses that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” Some examples of the work or tasks that a service animals do are alerting people who are deaf, guiding people who are blind, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, and many other duties.

 

What is an emotional support animal? 

Emotional support animals are different from service animals because they are not necessarily trained for specific tasks as service animals are. Emotional support animals are meant solely for emotional stability. They provide comfort and support in forms of affection and companionship for an individual suffering from various mental and emotional conditions. There is no legal definition of an emotional support animal, so there are no rules regarding the animal’s breed, type, training or size. This is why you have people have all sort of animals for emotional support, they might have snakes, turkeys, peacocks, birds, lizards, etc. Emotional Support animals are covered under the Fair Housing Act. 

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) are both civil rights acts, that provide certain protected classes with equal access to the use of housing. You should do some research and learn if your state has more laws regarding this issue. As a landlord, you have to be careful when asking about disabilities or about animals. You cannot ask the person what their disability is, even if it is not apparent. You cannot ask for medical documentation of any kind – for the tenant or for the service dog nor can you ask for an identification card or proof of training documentation of the dog. You may only ask: Is this a Service Animal that is required because of a disability? or What work or tasks has the animal been trained to perform? When you are screening prospective tenants you cannot ask on your application whether a person has a disability or emotional issue.  As for emotional support animals, you can ask for proof of medical need, It can be a note from a doctor or therapist or other official documents supporting the claim.

This blog post is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.