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Emotional Support Animal vs. Service Animal: Your Rights as a Landlord

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

Emotional Support Animal vs Service Animal - landlord rights

The presence of animals in rental properties is a topic that has become increasingly relevant in recent years. Landlords and property managers often face situations where tenants request to keep animals on the premises, citing the need for emotional support or assistance. It's essential to understand the distinctions between emotional support animals (ESAs) and service animals and the rights and responsibilities that come with them.

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)

Definition: ESAs are animals (usually dogs or cats) that provide emotional support and comfort to individuals with mental health conditions or emotional disorders. These animals are not trained to perform specific tasks but rather offer companionship and alleviate symptoms.

Legal Protection: Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), individuals with ESAs have the right to request accommodation from landlords, even in properties with a "no pets" policy. Landlords are generally required to make reasonable accommodations for tenants with ESAs.

Verification: Tenants must provide a letter from a licensed mental health professional, stating the need for an ESA. However, they are not obligated to disclose their specific condition or provide detailed medical records.

Service Animals

Definition: Service animals are highly trained to perform specific tasks or work directly related to an individual's disability. They are not considered pets and can be of any breed or species. Common examples include guide dogs for the visually impaired and hearing dogs for the deaf.

Legal Protection: Service animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They have the right to enter all public places, including businesses and housing, regardless of pet policies.

Verification: Landlords can only ask two questions to determine if an animal is a service animal: "Is this a service animal required because of a disability?" and "What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?" No documentation or registration is legally required.

Your Rights as a Landlord

As a landlord, you have certain rights when it comes to ESAs and service animals:

Verification: You can request verification for ESAs, such as the letter from a mental health professional. However, you cannot ask for specifics about the tenant's condition.

Damage: Tenants with ESAs are responsible for any damages caused by their animals, just like any other tenant.

Property Rules: Both ESAs and service animals must adhere to your property's rules, such as leash or noise policies. If the animal disrupts the peace or poses a danger, you have the right to address the issue.

Service Fees: You cannot charge additional fees or deposits for ESAs or service animals. However, if a service animal causes significant damage, you can seek compensation.

Denial: In rare cases where accommodating an ESA or service animal would result in undue financial or administrative burden or a fundamental alteration of your property, you may have grounds for denial.

Understanding the differences between ESAs and service animals and your rights as a landlord is crucial. It allows you to make informed decisions, accommodate tenants within the bounds of the law, and maintain a harmonious living environment for all residents. Always consult legal counsel for guidance on specific cases to ensure compliance with federal and state laws.


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