Understanding Furry Tenants: Navigating Laws for Service and Emotional Support Animals

October 19, 2023

Both service and emotional support animals are no longer a passing trend; they're an integral part of today's societal fabric and are here to stay. With their rising prominence, it's imperative for landlords not just to acknowledge this reality but to educate themselves thoroughly on the legal aspects involved when renting to tenants that require these types of animals.

Understanding the distinctions between service animals and emotional support animals is not just important but also essential for compliance with legal obligations. Struggling with these differences and neglecting the corresponding legal requirements puts landlords at risk of violating tenant rights and incurring substantial penalties and fines.

Landlords and Property Managers must understand their obligations to provide reasonable accommodations under the law. Ignorance is not a viable defense, making education and action essential in this evolving area of property management.

What’s The Difference?

Service animals are dogs trained for specific tasks to aid people with disabilities, covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Emotional support animals offer comfort but are not specially trained; they are governed by the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA).

Service Animals:

  • Only dogs and sometimes miniature horses are recognized.
  • No documentation is required.
  • Landlords can ask only two questions: is the animal required for a disability, and what task is it trained for?

Emotional Support Animals:

  • Can be various species.
  • Need a healthcare provider's letter.
  • Landlords can ask for this letter, but not about the nature of the disability.

Key Differences:

  • Legal frameworks: ADA for service animals, FHA for emotional support animals.
  • Types of animals: Only dogs and sometimes miniature horses for service animals; various species for emotional support animals.
  • Documentation: None required for service animals, healthcare provider's letter for emotional support animals.

Checklist for Landlords:

  • Service Animals:
    • Ask only the two permitted questions.
    • Don't request documentation.
    • Make reasonable accommodations.
  • Emotional Support Animals:
    • Request a healthcare provider's letter.
    • Verify authenticity if needed.
    • Make reasonable accommodations.

Civil Penalties for Landlords: Understanding the Costs of Non-Compliance

In both types of accommodations, documentation is important for landlords. Keeping records, like tenant requests and healthcare provider letters, can protect you from legal disputes.

Violating rules regarding service and emotional support animals can result in a range of penalties for landlords:

Fines: Civil penalties can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the jurisdiction and severity of the violation.

Legal Action: Tenants can file lawsuits with real estate attorneys, which may result in costly legal fees and potential damages. Some cases may even lead to criminal charges.

Loss of Licenses: In extreme cases, landlords might face the revocation of their rental license or other business licenses.

Reputational Damage: Negative publicity and online reviews can harm a landlord’s business long-term.

Mandatory Training: Landlords and staff may be required to attend fair housing training or ADA compliance workshops.

Settlements: Landlords may have to pay settlements to the aggrieved parties, which can include back rent, damages, and even punitive damages in some cases.

Key Takeaway: The penalties for not complying with rules related to service and emotional support animals are significant, ranging from fines and legal action to reputational damage and loss of licenses. Landlords must be informed and compliant to avoid these risks.

The Last Word: Understanding Animal Accommodations to Stay Compliant

Understanding the differences between service and emotional support animals is essential for landlords. Service animals are ADA-protected and trained for specific tasks, while emotional support animals offer comfort and require a healthcare provider's letter. Different documentation rules apply to each. Being informed and keeping accurate records helps landlords stay legally compliant and minimize risks.


Carlos Diaz
I believe in making the impossible possible because there’s no fun in giving up. Travel, design, fashion and current trends in the field of industrial construction are topics that I enjoy writing about.

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