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

For those who have rental properties and you handle them yourself, you will need to be aware of the laws on service and emotional support animals. If you use a property manager, be sure they’re up on the laws, also.

In a recent neighborhood Landlord Association meeting, the discussion was on which creatures we’re expected to allow without a pet deposit and no pet rent. There are lots of online websites where pet owners can get documentation saying that their “pet” is really a service or emotional support animal. It was agreed that this is becoming more common, often as a means to get pets without having to pay additionally for the pet.

Turns out there are just two agencies that produce regulation regarding these creatures:

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

Americans with Disabilities Act – The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in every area of public life such as jobs, schools, transport, and all private and public areas that are available to the general public. This legislation makes sure that individuals with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

Examples of public accommodations include privately-owned, rented, or operated facilities such as hotels, restaurants, retail merchants, physician’s offices, golf courses, etc.

As a landlord, when you’ve got public places such as a leasing office or a pool that’s open to the general public, you must allow service animals into that public area.

According to the ADA:

  • Only dogs are known as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA. (make sure to read under the mini home provision!)
  • A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.
  • Typically, entities must allow service animals to accompany individuals with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are permitted to go.

** Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for individuals with disabilities.
Service animals are working animals, not pets. **

The job or job a dog has been trained to provide must be directly linked to the individual’s disability. Dogs whose sole role is to offer comfort or emotional support don’t qualify as service animals under the ADA.

Some State and local laws define service creatures more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such legislation can be obtained in the State attorney general’s office.

But that is not all!

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

There are 4 evaluation factors to assist in determining whether mini horses can be accommodated in your center:

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

Do you need a horse (no matter how “mini”) living on your rental? You may legally don’t have any choice…

Under the ADA, emotional support animals aren’t recognized as doing tasks or work for their owners. Therefore, they don’t qualify as support animals and aren’t protected under the ADA.

Another important issue covered in the ADA is exactly what you may and may not request or need from owners of service animals. Actually, there are only 2 questions you may ask:

  1. Is this a service animal that’s required due to a disability?
  2. What job or tasks has the animal been trained to carry out?

You can’t ask for evidence of training and you can’t inquire about the nature or extent of an individual’s disability.

As a landlord, you’re expected to accept these service animals and you may not collect a pet deposit or pet lease for a service animal. After all, they’re not a “pet”.

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

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

Have you got service animals residing in your properties? Did you know the legislation?