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Definition of Service Animals

The subject of "Service Animals" and "Companion Dogs" is a confusing one to say the least. If you Google the subject, you will get a lot of information back to read. There is information under the ADA, the Fair Housing Act, Rehabilitation Act and Section 504, American Disabilities Act, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Transportation, just to name a few. The category of "Service Animals" (covered by the ADA) requires animals be trained to assist a person with a disability. A Service Animal is not a pet. This definition covers that the animal could be a guide dog, a hearing assistance dog, an animal to help pull a wheelchair or pick up objects--or even to alert a person to take their medication. Not all disabilities are obvious, so when someone tells us here at PRANDI that they have a Service Animal, we do not always know the explanation behind it as it can be for any reason at all. Not all service animals wear special harnesses or vests--this is important to remember as well. There is no law requiring the animal to wear special identification, or for the human to carry documentation to prove the animal is properly registered. These animals are allowed to accompany the person it is trained to assist anywhere the general public is allowed to go. An "Emotional Support Animal" does not qualify as a service animal under ADA regulations. However, an "Emotional Support Animal" is covered by Fair Housing. The purpose is to protect the right of people with disabilities who keep emotional support animals in housing, even in a "no pets allowed" property. If the tenant meets the definition of a person with a disability, and has a letter from an appropriate professional, according to Fair Housing, the tenant is entitled to a "reasonable accommodation" allowing an Emotional Support Animal to reside with them in the house. The landlord may not increase the security deposit over and above the normal one, nor require the tenant to sign a "pet addendum" when it comes to the Service Animal--both things we require here in the office for a typical house "pet". The landlord can, however, require that the tenant properly clean-up after the animal, keep the animal under control, be held responsible for any damages caused by the animal, as well as make sure the animal is currently up to date on immunizations required by law. We are always following the laws of our Fair Housing Guidelines, and staying up-to-date on ever-changing legislation in our field, but this blog is not meant to serve as legal advice. We are simply very interested in this topic in our office and follow it quite regularly, as we have had to explain to owners who did not want a "pet" in their rental property that they had to legally accept the "service animal" the prospective tenant would bring into the home with them. Needless to say, this very interesting law comes up in our office a lot, and was the topic of a recent NARPM meeting I attended. It lead me to share with the public this definition of a service animal, in property management terms. For more information, please contact a Fair Housing Authority or a Real Estate Attorney. Dana Sansing-Esquibel, Senior Property Manager & Leasing Agent.