What Is the Difference Between Service, Emotional Support Animals and Pets

What Is the Difference Between Service, Emotional Support Animals and Pets

Pets are beloved companions to many people, but as a landlord, they can be a nuisance. Between the potential for damage and excessive noise, you might decide it's best not to allow pets into your rentals.

While this is well within your rights, you might encounter a tenant who has a service dog or a support animal. What do you do then?

In this article, we'll cover the differences between service dogs, support animals, and pets, as well as your legal obligations.

The Difference Between Service Dogs, Support Animals, and the Rest

Service dogs perform specific functions that their owner can't do themselves due to disability. This includes seeing for the blind and picking up objects for individuals with limited mobility. A service dog receives two to four months of training to assist with their owner's needs.

Emotional support animals provide comfort to individuals with intellectual, mental, or physical disabilities. These animals don't require special training, but their owners do need a medical diagnosis for them to qualify as support animals. Dogs are the most common type of support animal, but any domesticated animal, including cats, rabbits, and birds, can receive the designation.

If an animal doesn't have any special training or certifications, then they are considered a pet. While pets can certainly provide emotional support to their owners, without the required credentials, they don't have any legal protections.

Legal Protections and Certifications

Service dogs are legally protected through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Owners can take their service dog anywhere, even places that don't normally allow dogs. To obtain a service dog, a person must be diagnosed with a disability and then go through an agency to help them find a dog that suits their needs.

Emotional support animals have some legal protections, but they have fewer than service dogs. Owners are legally allowed to live with these animals, but businesses aren't obligated to allow them entry. Individuals who want their pet certified as a support animal must have a medical diagnosis and need a letter from their doctor stating how the animal will benefit them.

Implications for Landlords

Service dogs and emotional support animals have legal protections under the ADA and the Fair Housing Act (FHA), so you might have to let some animals live in your rental units. If a prospective tenant claims to have one of these types of animals, you should confirm that they have the proper credentials. If everything checks out, you must let these animals on the premises, even if you don't allow pets in a rental.

If you decide that pets aren't allowed in your rentals, make this clear in your tenancy agreement. However, you should also include that service dogs and support animals are exempt from this policy so you don't run into any legal issues.

Understanding These Different Classes of Animals

While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, service dogs and support animals are different. Both are protected under the law and you must allow them into your rental property, regardless of your pet policy.

If you need help navigating the laws surrounding service dogs and support animals, PMI North Dallas is here for you. We have over 30 years of experience in all facets of property management.

Contact us today with any questions.