Pets Vs Service Animals. What’s the Difference?

Landlord Essentials

Allowing pets in your Colorado Springs rental property is a great way to find and keep great tenants. One thing that all rental property owners have to understand is the difference between pets and service animals and emotional support animals. Service animals are specifically trained animals that perform specific tasks to help with a disability-related need, such as guide dogs for the blind or dogs that detect and alert their owner for seizures. Emotional support animals (ESAs) don’t have to be specifically trained, but help alleviate one or more symptoms of a person’s disability simply by being nearby. Under Federal Fair Housing, landlords and property managers must allow both types of assistance animals (service animal or ESAs) in a rental regardless of their pet policy.

What’s the Difference Between Pets vs Service Animals in a Rental?


Essentially, pets are pets. You can approve or deny them, charge deposits or fees, or collect a monthly pet rent for them living in the property. Service animals and ESAs are not considered pets, but a part of the person. Under Federal Fair Housing, a landlord cannot charge deposits, fees, pet rent, or decline a service animal or ESA from living in the home, regardless of what your pet policy states. If your resident’s disability is obvious or they provide proper documentation if their disability isn’t obvious, you have to allow the assistance animal.


What About Damages?

One of the biggest concerns rental property owners have when it comes to pets and assistance animals is what happens if they damage the property? With pets, you have the added security of the pet deposit or pet fee collected at the start of the lease. But since you cannot charge those for assistance animals, how do you handle damage? Luckily, a resident can still be held responsible for any damage caused by a service animal or ESA. These can be deducted these from their security deposit like any other damage caused. Just be sure to consult with a real estate attorney on how to draft a proper assistance animal addendum to include with your lease agreement.

The biggest takeaway to consider when it comes to pets vs service animals and ESAs is to approach with caution. Make sure you fully understand what is required of you by law when it comes to accommodating requests for service animals and ESAs and consult with a real estate attorney if you’re unsure how to proceed. Failure to do so or outright denying the request could land you with a Fair Housing violation.


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