Property Management Blog

The Difference Between Pets and Service Animals and Your Legal Obligations

Property Management Blog

Over 50% of tenants looking for a rental have pets. As a landlord and property owner, it’s important to understand the distinctions between pets, service animals, and emotional support animals.

Pets and Service Animals are NOT the Same

“Pet” is an umbrella term referring to any animal that belongs to a human, and therefore it is the largest category. 

Service animals and emotional support animals are specific categories of pets. They are protected by two primary laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Fair Housing Laws, which prohibit housing discrimination based on a person’s need for a service or emotional support animal. This means you are not allowed to deny housing to a tenant because they own a service or support animal. 


Some insurance companies will require that you adhere to certain breed restrictions if you’re renting out your property. It’s important to note also, that even if an insurance company does not have a breed restriction, certain buildings, neighborhoods, HOAs, and communities will still have breed restrictions, so it’s important to remain compliant to those policies. The only time a breed restriction is not applicable is when there is a legitimate service animal involved. For details specific to your rental dwelling policy, we recommend reaching out to your insurance agent.


Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is a working animal (often a dog) trained to assist disabled people. Service animals can perform a variety of tasks including assisting a person with visual or hearing impairments, reminding someone to take their medication, helping a person during a seizure, or calming someone experiencing PTSD. Another thing to be aware of is that tenants who need a service animal at any point during their lease are protected to do so and will not need to receive permission from their landlord. 


Emotional support animals are not trained for particular tasks like service animals. Instead, they are meant to provide emotional stability, comfort, and companionship for people with certain mental, psychiatric, and emotional conditions.  

There are currently no rigorous legal definitions of emotional support animals. The most common type of emotional support animals are dogs, but people can have a wide variety of support animals including support cats, reptiles, or birds. All of these animals are covered under the Fair Housing Act which prevents landlords from discriminating against someone on the basis of their needs. 

You cannot charge more for a service animal whether it’s a pet deposit or increasing the price, service animals are exempt via HUD regulations. HUD is responsible for setting these guidelines, so make sure you are updated on their current policy. In fact, you can find yourself in major legal trouble if you do charge fees for Service Animals or deny a tenant based on having a Service Animal.

Can I Charge Damages From Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals? 

Service and support animals are not regular pets, but this doesn't mean you’re not allowed to charge for damages caused by them. The animal has the right to reside in the property; however, if they cause damages above and beyond the normal wear and tear of a well-behaved animal, then you are allowed to charge for those damages.

The Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act

The Fair Housing Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act protect certain classes of people from discrimination. While the FHA refers specifically to housing requirements, the ADA includes many provisions regarding housing as well. As a landlord speaking with potential tenants, it’s important to understand what you can and cannot ask about service animals.

When screening a tenant, you are not allowed to ask if the animal is a service animal. This could be interpreted to mean you do not rent to the disabled, which violates FHA and ADA laws. You are allowed to ask for the certification status of the animal.

At Palomar Property Services, we can help you navigate this sensitive situation with our partner service provider called Their screening platform eliminates the worry of violating FHA and ADA laws while interviewing tenants by standardizing the animal screening process. 

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