In this blog, we’re delving deeper into the world of animal companions in apartment communities and rental homes. We’ll explore the distinctions between household pets, service animals, and support animals, shedding light on how these different classifications impact your responsibilities as property owners. Let’s navigate through this complex landscape together.

Types of Animals in Rental Communities:

1. Household Pets: The Common and Familiar

Household pets are the most prevalent in rental communities. They are typically subject to community-specific pet policies that outline parameters for pet ownership. While these policies may vary, they offer a clear framework for screening and managing household pets in your property.

2. Service Animals: Trained Helpers for Individuals with Disabilities

Service animals are specifically trained to perform tasks that benefit individuals with disabilities. Covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are limited to dogs or miniature horses. It’s important to note that service animals are not considered pets and have distinct rights and accommodations under the law.

3. Support Animals (ESAs): Emotional Support and Companionship

Support animals provide emotional support, comfort, and companionship to individuals with disabilities. Unlike service animals, support animals can include a wider range of species such as dogs, cats, small birds, rabbits, and more. To qualify for a support animal, the owner must provide proof of a disability and demonstrate the need for emotional support.

Handling Requests: Key Distinctions for Rental Property Owners:

1. Pet Fees and Charges:

For both service animals and support animals, residents cannot be charged standard pet fees or deposits. This is an important distinction, as it ensures that individuals with disabilities are not burdened with additional costs for their necessary animal companions.

2. Accommodating “No Pet” Policies and Restrictions:

Service animals and support animals are permitted to live in rental properties with “no pet” policies, in accordance with the law. This means they are exempt from community-specific pet restrictions, including breed or weight limitations. Additionally, quantity restrictions do not apply as long as there is a demonstrated nexus between each animal and the disability-related need. It’s important to note that reasonableness is a key factor in assessing accommodation requests, and consultation with legal professionals can help navigate specific situations.

3. Service Animal Inquiries:

When it comes to service animals, property teams have limited rights to inquire. They can only ask two questions: Is the service animal required because of a disability? What work or task has the animal been trained to perform? Remember, these questions should only be asked if the disability is not obvious, such as a seeing-eye dog for a blind individual. It’s important to respect the privacy and dignity of individuals with disabilities and refrain from asking for specific medical details or documentation.

Support Animal Verification:

1. Establishing Legitimacy:

Verifying the legitimacy of support animal requests can be challenging for property teams. While many requests are genuine, there is a risk of fraudulent claims. To navigate this, request documentation from a licensed medical professional that confirms the resident’s disability and the need for a support animal. Be cautious of false documentation and seek guidance from legal resources if you suspect fraudulent activity.

2. Handling Pet Policy Exceptions:

Support animals fall under the category of “assistance animals” and are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). As a property owner, you are required to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities who require support animals, even if your property has a no-pet policy. Understand your obligations under the law and ensure fair treatment of residents with support animals.

Education and Training for Rental Property Owners:

1. Understanding the Laws:

It’s crucial for property teams to educate themselves about the laws and regulations surrounding pets, service animals, and support animals. Familiarize yourself with the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and any local laws that may apply to your area. Stay updated on any changes or updates to ensure compliance and provide equal housing opportunities for all residents.

2. Training for Sensitivity and Inclusivity:

Promote a culture of sensitivity, inclusivity, and understanding within your property team. Train your staff to interact respectfully with individuals with disabilities and their animal companions. Create a welcoming environment where residents feel comfortable disclosing their needs and seeking assistance when necessary.

As a rental property owner, understanding the distinctions between household pets, service animals, and support animals is essential. Recognize the legal protections afforded to individuals with disabilities and their need for assistance animals. By navigating this landscape with empathy, knowledge, and compliance, you can create a welcoming environment that accommodates the diverse needs of your residents while upholding your responsibilities as a property owner. Embrace the opportunity to provide a supportive and inclusive community for all.


Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal or professional advice and should not be relied upon as such. Every rental property and jurisdiction may have specific laws and regulations regarding pets, service animals, and support animals. It is important to consult with legal and professional experts in your area to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.