The Landlord’s Guide to Support Animals

The Landlord’s Guide to Support Animals

Nearly three-quarters of renters have animals in their lives. These include pets, support animals, and service animals. Many landlords forbid renters from keeping pets, however.

The line becomes blurry, though, with emotional support animals and service animals in the picture. What accommodations must landlords make, and what places an animal in each category?

Not knowing how to handle support animals can risk lawsuits. You don't want to refuse a tenant the required accommodation.

We can help. Keep reading for what you need to know about service and emotional support pets.

Difference Between Pets, Support Animals, and Service Animals

Companion animals fall into different categories. Some require greater accommodations from landlords than others. We'll start by breaking these categories out.


If the animal performs no meaningful tasks or services that support its owner, the animal counts as a pet. Landlords can forbid renters from having pets or charge pet deposits.

Service Animals

Service animals perform basic life tasks for their owners, such as guiding them between locations, alerting them and their families to medical issues, and retrieving things. Service pets are always dogs or miniature horses.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals provide a sense of emotional stability or companionship. Emotional support animals don't need to know any skills. Any animal can serve as an emotional support animal.

Accommodating Animals

The guidelines provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development regarding animals spell out the situations where a landlord must make an exception. The requester must have a specific diagnosed disability. The animal must address the needs created by that disability.

With service pets, the situation almost always has extensive documentation. You can ask your renter for documentation of the condition and which tasks the animal performs. Sometimes this will involve a physician or therapist as well.

For other assistance animals, the line can get blurrier. The procedure can remain the same. The burden of proof remains with the tenant.

Support Animal Examples

If you're not sure where to start with assistance animals, we have two specific examples. This won't encompass every potential case but can give you some food for thought.

Many animal lovers look to cats as support pets. Cats encourage routine, reduce anxiety, and can even reduce pain from chronic illness.

If a family has a member with Alzheimer's, a fish tank might be an appropriate accommodation. Fish can provide a sense of stability and improve appetite among Alzheimer's patients.

Potential Liability

If you deny a reasonable request for accommodation, you can get sued. While courts often come down on the side of the landlord or property management company, a legal battle takes time away from running your property.

Be sure to document your accommodation process. If you have an attorney or a management company, consult with them regarding your next steps.

Support for Support

Support animals play a major role in the lives of their owners, but adding a pet to a lease does come with its own costs. Make sure to balance your legal liability with the additional potential costs of caring for the unit. If you're deeply concerned about a specific request, contact your legal team.

If dealing with issues like these sounds like enough stress that you'd want your own emotional support animal, contact us. We may not be as fluffy as kittens, but we've got the experience you need in property management.

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