Millions of Americans own service or emotional support animals. Living with a service dog or emotional support animal is not only a right; it makes the owner and the animal a protected class under either the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA or the Fair Housing Act.
Per the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA, service animals are defined as dogs that are trained to do work or tasks for people with disabilities. Such actions or duties include but are not limited to guiding the blind, alerting the deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting someone having a seizure, reminding a person to take prescribed medications, or even calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack.
While they are loving animals, service animals are considered working animals and not pets. The task a service animal has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Other domestic animals that are not dogs are covered only as emotional support animals (ESA) or therapy animals.
The most common service animal is the psychiatric service dog (PSD) which is used to assist with psychiatric or mental disabilities including but not limited to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder. Only PSDs are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act to access public places that otherwise do not allow pets. Services such as providing companionship, calming anxiety, and comforting or providing a sense of safety are not all legally considered “tasks”, and would not qualify the dog as a PSD.
An emotional support animal (ESA) is any domestic animal, including a dog, whose presence mitigates emotional or psychological symptoms associated with an owner. They do not have to be trained as long as they are well behaved. While not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, ESAs are covered under the Fair Housing Act which allows people with an ESA to have the pet in their home even if there is a “no pet” policy.
If the service animal is also working as an emotional support animal already, the owner should have a letter for an ESA from a licensed therapist. Once the owner has the letter, they can provide an original hard copy of the letter or send the landlord a digital copy via email. When moving into a new rental, people with service animals may give the landlord an ESA letter before or after signing the lease.
Service animal or emotional support animal owners are not required to let the apartment management company know that they need or may need an emotional support animal. Also, apartment management companies are not allowed to discriminate against emotional support animal owners by not extending leases or rejecting applications. This is unethical as well as illegal. While those with a service or emotional support animal have rights, the landlord can refuse to house or evict a service animal owner if the service animal compromises the safety of the other tenants, property, or causes the landlord any undue financial hardship.
In addition, a person with a service or emotional support animal is not required to pay any pet deposit, pet rent, or other related fees in property’s policy, although the owner is not exempt from paying for any damage the animal may cause.
Additionally, a landlord may require any assistance animal to be up-to-date with vaccinations as this is not only safety and security issue, but needed for insurance. While you should tell the landlord about your service or emotional support animal, there is very little they can do to force the owner of such an animal from removing either the owner or animal.