A Short Guide: Pets, Service Animals, and Emotional Support Animals

December 14th, 2018
A Short Guide: Pets, Service Animals, and Emotional Support Animals

Believe it or not, there is a difference between a pet, service animal, and an emotional support animal. According to the Fair Housing Act, landlords are required to make the appropriate accommodations to tenants who require “service and emotional support animals” to function on a day-to-day basis.

For tenants, having a service or an emotional support animal can either make or break how they can get through the day. If you openly turn down tenants who require the needs of the animals, you may be committing discrimination and violating the Fair Housing Act.

According to the Humane Society, if you refuse accommodations for a service and/or emotional support animal, tenants can file the following complaints:

  • A discrimination complaint can be filed electronically with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
  • A (HUD) discrimination form can be printed and filled out and mailed directly to the appropriate (HUD) office.
  • Depending on the state, many states have government agencies that investigate discrimination claims, and as such a complaint can be filed directly with that state’s government department.

Any of these complaints can prove extremely costly in more ways than one. That’s why we’ve broken down the different types of animals and how you should consider them as you handle the tenant screening process.

Service Animals

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is defined as any dog, no matter the breed, size, and weight to be essential to an individual’s well-being. Service dogs differ from pets because they receive specialized training to help an individual perform tasks. “In some circumstances, this can also extend to miniature horses.”

What does this mean for tenants who require the help of service animals that are applying for housing?

Man signing paper from an online rental application


Well, according to the Fair Housing Act, homeowners are required to provide a “reasonable accommodation” for handicapped individuals. This clause also extends to handicapped individuals who require the need of service animals, “including those needed for emotional support, to the same extent.” (Fair Housing Act (FHA))

When future tenants are looking to submit a standard rental application, landlords are expected to receive information about whether they will be bringing along a pet or a service animal.

As an agent or a landlord what types of things should you be looking for?

  • All service animals “must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered… unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the person’s disability prevents use of these devices.” (ADA.gov, Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA)
  • If a service dog behaves aggressively and is a threat to human life and safety, only then the landlord is permitted to have the animal removed from the premises.
  • Landlords cannot ask for future nor present tenants to pay a “pet deposit” for their service or support animals.
  • If a disability is no obvious at first glance, landlords reserve the right to ask for documentation of the disability and related paperwork relating to the service animal.

Emotional Support Animals

Much different from service animals, emotional support animals provide comfort to individuals that require them for therapeutic benefits. Support animals differ from service animals, because they are not specifically trained to work or perform assistive tasks.

Under the Fair Housing Act, just like service animals, support animals may require “reasonable accommodations.” Meaning, as a landlord if you usually abide by a “no pet” rule, you may still be required to allow support or service animals.

If you wish to question if the “support animal” is a reasonable accommodation, you can ask a couple of questions. According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), two questions are needed to determine this:

  • Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability – i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
  • Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?

A “no” to one of these questions means that the home owner or landlord is not obligated to make a “reasonable accommodation.” However, if “yes” is answered to both of these questions, then the home owner must follow the Fair Housing Act and make an exception to any existing “no pet” rules.


Unlike service and support animals, pets do not serve a dire medical service to individuals. In these cases, landlords reserve the right to reject future tenants if a “no pet” rule is in play. If the property is accommodating of pets, several things should be asked from future tenants.

Outdoor leashed pug and the fair housing act


Tenants who are applying for housing through a standard rental application, physical or online, should provide information about pets and how many will be brought along. There isn’t much to be done regarding pets, as the final decision will always begin and end with the landlord. Before you reject an applicant based on having a pet, it is a good practice to always confirm that the pet in question is not a service or support animal.

According to the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department (HCIDLA), pet ownership can give some useful insights concerning the tenants who will be renting the apartment or property.

  • “Tenants in pet-friendly rentals stayed an average of 46 months compared to 18 months for tenants residing in rentals prohibiting pets.”
  • According to the HCIDLA, vacancy rates tend to be a lot lower with areas that are more pet-friendly.
  • Renters that are pet owners are “willing to pay a premium to cover any extra costs” concerning their pets.
  • There is an “Increased demand due to shortage of pet-friendly rentals.”
  • Pet owners usually turn out to be very responsible tenants. (Enter statistic about pet owners)
  • “Responsible pet owners make more responsible tenants, as they are less likely to do anything that could jeopardize their tenancy.”
  • “Non-refundable deposits to offset costs for cleaning when tenant moves.”

In Closing

As a real estate agent or landlord, it is important to learn about service animals, emotional support animals, and animals in general. After all, many types of tenants should be considered when you put a property up for rent. In the end, it is your responsibility to learn about the different types of animals that you may encounter from tenants and to understand the proper screening procedures for them.

Sometimes not all the information you need is going to come from a standard rental application. It is important that you properly screen your tenants and ask any questions that can clear up concerns and ensure a smooth rental process!

To prevent any risks of infractions when renting property, it is high recommended that you consult with an experienced landlord/tenant attorney when developing a screening policy relating to animals.