Service Animals / Emotional Support Animals: What You Need to Know


If you own rental property and manage it yourself, you should know the laws about service animals and emotional support. If you use a property manager, make sure that they also comply with the laws.

At a recent HOA meeting, the discussion was about which animals we should allow with no pet deposit and no pet rent. There are many sites online where pet owners can obtain documentation that their “pet” is actually a service or emotional support animal. It was agreed that this is becoming more common, often as a way to have pets without having to pay more for the pet.

It turns out that there are 2 agencies that create regulations regarding these animals:

  1. The Americans with Disabilities Act
  2. The Fair Housing Act (FHA)

SoulLaw on persons with disabilities – The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. This law ensures that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

Examples of public accommodations include privately owned, leased, or operated facilities such as hotels, restaurants, retailers, medical offices, golf courses, etc.

As a landlord, if you have public areas like a leasing office or swimming pool open to the public, you must allow service animals to enter that public space.

According to the ADA:

  • Only dogs are recognized as service animals under Titles II and III of the ADA. (Be sure to read about the miniature house layout below!)
  • A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.
  • Generally, entities must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where the public is allowed to pass.

** Service animals are defined as dogs who are individually trained to work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.

Service animals are working animals, not pets. **

The job or task for which a dog has been trained must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

Some state and local laws define service animals more broadly than the ADA. Information on these laws can be obtained from your state attorney general’s office.

But that is not all!

The Department’s revised ADA regulations have a new separate provision on miniature horses that have been individually trained to work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. (Miniature horses generally range in height from 24 inches to 34 inches measured at the shoulders and generally weigh between 70 and 100 pounds.)

There are 4 evaluation factors to help determine if miniature horses can be accommodated in your facility:

  1. Is the miniature horse tame?
  2. Is the miniature horse under the control of the owner?
  3. Can your facility accommodate the type, size and weight of the miniature horse?
  4. Will the presence of the miniature horse compromise the legitimate safety requirements necessary for the safe operation of your facility?

Do you want a horse (no matter how “miniature”) to live in your rental? You may legally have no other choice …

Under the ADA, emotional support animals are not recognized to perform jobs or tasks for their owners. Therefore, they do not qualify as service animals and are not protected by the ADA.

Another important topic covered in the ADA is what you can and cannot ask of service animal owners. In fact, there are only 2 questions you can ask:

  1. Is this a service animal that is required due to a disability?
  2. What job or tasks has the animal been trained to perform?

You cannot request proof of training and you cannot ask about the nature or extent of a person’s disability.

As a landlord, you must accept these service animals and cannot charge a pet deposit or pet rent for a service animal. After all, they are not a “pet”.

These are the only cases in which you can deny or evict a service animal:

  1. the animal is out of control and the owner cannot control it
  2. the animal is not domesticated
  3. the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others

Do you have service animals living on your property? Did you know the laws?

In my next blog, we will see similarities and differences with the Fair Housing Law.