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How to Handle Tenants With Support Animals

In 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation ruled that airlines can prohibit Emotional Support Animals (or, ESAs) in airplane cabins. But, service dogs are still allowed to accompany passengers with disabilities. 

The ruling ended a conflict that has gone on for years. High-profile cases of ESA attacks on flights made headlines. At the same time, fliers with disabilities faced undue discrimination against their legitimate service dogs. 

As a landlord, you may also have to set and enforce rules about your tenant's support animals. Here's what you need to know to stay legal and safe. 

What Are Support Animals?

"Support animal" is an umbrella term. It describes an animal—usually a dog or cat—that provides physical, emotional, or therapeutic support to a human. 

Different types of support animals meet different standards for training and job performance. And, they have different protections.  

Service Animal

Federally, service animals are dogs trained to perform daily living or emergency-alert tasks for people who have certain disabilities. Disabilities can be physical or psychiatric.

Task Training

Service dogs are defined and protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Recently, certain states expanded the definition of "service animal" to include trained miniature horses. 

Service dogs receive specific training to perform tasks, including:

  • Alerting someone to an oncoming seizure
  • Guiding a blind person
  • Helping a person with quadriplegic open doors
  • Helping someone with arthritis answer the phone
  • Grounding someone with PTSD to prevent flashbacks

Legal Protections

Service animals are legally allowed to be in any publically accessible space—including schools, restaurants, and offices.

To determine if an animal is a legitimate service animal, it is legal to ask if the animal is required due to a disability. You can also ask what tasks it is trained to perform. 

A property owner cannot impose pet rent, surcharges, or additional fees on a disabled tenant with a service dog. 

Therapy Animal

Unlike service animals, therapy animals are not trained to perform specific tasks. But, they may train to pass a public access test (PAT).

Therapy animals are, instead, trained to work with their handler to provide comfort in stressful places (like hospitals).

General Training, No Legal Status

Therapy dogs have no official legal protections. Typically, hospitals and schools set rules regarding when they allow therapy animals in. It is legal to charge a therapy dog handler pet rent

Emotional Support Animal

An emotional support animal, vs. a service animal, has less training and fewer rights. ESAs are not trained to perform specific tasks. Instead, they ease anxiety, depression, and loneliness in their owners.

Protection Under Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act protects tenants with ESAs. Moreover, landlords cannot charge "pet rent" or impose other fees on ESAs. 

That said, ESAs do not have legal protections in public spaces. 

How To Ensure Safety When Tenants Have Support Animals

Support animals can be safe members of a residential community. But, it's important to set yourself up for success. The good news is, that you can take steps that make safety easier. 


First, it is legal to require all animals to be up-to-date on their vaccinations. Service animals are not exempt from vaccination requirements.

You might make proof of vaccination a stipulation before moving in with an ESA or service animal.

Rules and Laws

Second, support animals must abide by the same safety laws as any other animal. This includes:

  • Nuisance laws
  • Noise ordinances
  • Leash laws
  • Waste disposal laws

Communicate laws and rules clearly with tenants. If necessary, be clear about the consequences of violations, including fines or eviction. 

Space Safety

Third, make safety easy. Make sure there is ample room for dog walkers to pass each other on residential grounds. Model and communicate about giving support animals a respectful amount of space.

Consider posting signs that indicate service dogs are allowed on the premises, even if pets aren't. 

Elevate With WolfNest Property Management 

Navigating thorny questions about support animals can trip up the most responsible property owner. In times like this, call in the experts. 

WolfNest offers high-caliber property management services to ease the practical burden of renting out real estate. Learn more about our property management services today. 

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