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

If you own rental properties and manage them yourself, you should be aware of the laws regarding service and emotional support animals. If you use a property manager, make sure they are also aware of the laws.

At a recent local HOA meeting, the discussion was about which animals we should allow with no pet deposit and no pet rent. There are many sites online where pet owners can obtain documentation that their “pet” is actually a service or emotional support animal. It was agreed that this is becoming more common, often as a way of getting pets without needing to pay more for the pet.

It turns out that there are 2 agencies that create regulations regarding these animals:

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

Disabled Rich Law – The ADA prohibits discrimination against people 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 ensures that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

Examples of public facilities include privately owned, leased, or operated facilities such as hotels, restaurants, retail stores, doctors’ offices, golf courses, etc.

As a landlord, if you have public areas such as a leasing office or swimming pool that are 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 house layout!)
  • A service animal is a dog individually trained to work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.
  • In general, entities must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are permitted.

** Service animals are defined as dogs who are individually trained to perform jobs or perform tasks for people with disabilities.

Service animals are working animals, not pets.**

The job or task a dog has been trained to do 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 animals more broadly than the ADA. Information about these laws can be obtained from the state attorney general’s office.

But that is not all!

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

There are 4 evaluation factors to help determine if miniature horses can be accommodated at your facility:

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

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

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

Another important topic covered in the ADA is what you can and cannot ask or require of owners of service animals. In fact, there are only 2 questions you can ask:

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

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

As a landlord, you must accept these service animals and cannot charge a pet deposit or pet rent for a service animal. After all, they are not a “pet”.

These are the only times you can deny or evict a service animal:

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

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

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

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