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

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

If you have rental properties and you manage them yourself, you need to know the laws on service and emotional support animals. If you use a property manager, make sure they are up on the laws, as well.

At a recent local Landlord Association meeting, the discussion was on which animals we are required to allow with no pet deposit and no pet rent. There are many online sites where pet owners can get documentation stating 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 get pets in without needing to pay additionally for the pet.

Turns out there are 2 agencies that create regulation regarding these animals:

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

Americans with Disabilities Act – The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals 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 makes sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

Examples of public accommodations include privately-owned, leased or operated facilities like hotels, restaurants, retail merchants, doctor’s offices, golf courses, and so on.

As a landlord, if you have public areas such as a leasing office or a pool that is open to the public, you must allow service animals into 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 below about the miniature horse provision!)
  • A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.
  • Generally, entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.

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

Service animals are working animals, not pets.**

The work or task a dog has been trained to provide 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 animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office.

But that’s not all!

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

There are 4 assessment factors to assist in determining whether miniature horses can be accommodated in your facility:

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

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

Under the ADA, emotional support animals are not recognized as doing work or tasks for their owners. Therefore, they do not qualify as service animals and are not protected under the ADA.

Another important issue covered in the ADA is what you may and may not ask for or require from owners of service animals. In fact, there are only 2 questions you may ask:

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

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

As a landlord, you are required to accept these service animals and you may not collect a pet deposit or pet rent for a service animal. After all, they are not a “pet”.

Here are the only instances where you may deny or evict a service animal:

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

As most of you know, I’m not an attorney and this is definitely not legal advice, I’m just sharing what was discussed at the meeting and found through online research. Please check with your local real estate attorney when you have questions on service or emotional support animals.

In my next blog, we will look at similarities and differences with the Fair Housing Act.

Do you have service animals living in your properties? Did you know the laws?


This post has 2 Comments | Would you like to leave a comment?


  1. Hi Curt:
    This is a huge concern to landlords, how to keep non-handicapped tenants from abusing this law. Obviously, we’re fine with people who have special needs having an animal to help them manage life. It’s horrible to think that those taking advantage make it harder for those who are truly handicapped.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  2. Tnx, but we all know this reg is being 99% abused by non disabled. How are we to protect ourselves from applicants wanting to get their pit bull into a rental?

    We need “legal questions” that will allow us to sift out who really should be using this reg and those who should NOT?

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