San Diego Property Management Blog

The Legal Definitions of Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals

The Legal Definitions of Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals

One of the reasons that landlords and rental property owners can become so confused by service animals and support animals is that the definitions of these things are not always consistent or clear. 

Service animals are defined by the U.S. Department of Justice, within federal laws such as the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some states and local governments, however, have drafted their own laws and regulations that pertain to service animals. 

Then, there are emotional support animals and companion animals. It can be difficult to keep all of these accommodations straight and to understand what your rights and responsibilities are as a landlord.

Today, we’re providing some clarity.

Understanding Service Animals 

According to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. 

Only dogs can be service animals. This was established in 2011.

Examples of the work or tasks that a service animal may accomplish for a person with a disability include:

  • Guiding people who are blind

  • Alerting people who are deaf

  • Pulling a wheelchair

  • Protecting a person who is having a seizure

  • Reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications

  • Calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack

There are other duties a service animal may perform, depending on the person and the disability. 

Dogs and other animals whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under federal law. This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act. Assistance animals can serve different roles and may be an emotional support animal, companion animal, or therapy animal. 

Understanding Emotional Support Animals

An emotional support animal is not a service animal, but it’s also not a pet. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefits to an individual with an intellectual, emotional, or psychiatric disability. 

The person seeking the emotional support animal must have a verifiable disability. This type of animal is considered a "reasonable accommodation" under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. 

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses the term "assistance animal" to cover any animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person's disability.  

An emotional support animal is one type of assistance animal allowed as a reasonable accommodation, even if you’re renting out a property that does not allow pets. 

What this Means for Del Mar Rental Homes

service and support dog

You’re free to allow pets or not allow pets in your property. However, service animals and emotional support animals are both legally considered assistance animals, which means you have to allow them in your property if your tenant requires one of these animals. 

You cannot charge a pet fee or a pet deposit. You cannot charge pet rent. Emotional support animals and service animals are not seen as pets. They’re seen as accommodations.

We know this can be complex, and if you’d like to talk more about what’s required from you and how to handle a tenant or an applicant who needs a service or support animal, please contact us.

Harcourts Avanti is a full-service property management company that manages long term as well as vacation rentals in Del Mar, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Cardiff, Carmel Valley, Solana Beach, and the surrounding San Diego areas.