Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Animals | Austin Landlord Advice

Dated: December 28 2020

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Most landlords are comfortable creating and enforcing pet policies. Whether you decide to allow pets or not allow pets, you know what you’re doing and you’ve got it covered.

Emotional support animals and service animals are a little different, however, and they can cause some confusion and mistakes among Austin property owners. Today, we’re sharing some of the things you need to know.

These Animals are Not Pets

First, you need to wrap your head around the fact that service animals and emotional support animals are not pets. In the eyes of the law, they are accommodations that you must make for tenants and applicants who have disabilities. This means that you cannot deny an application or a tenant’s request to have a service animal or an emotional support animal. If you do say no because of your policy of not accepting pets, you will have discriminated against that tenant. You cannot charge a pet deposit or a pet fee. You cannot collect pet rent. These things are completely acceptable when you allow a tenant to move in with a pet. But, these are not pets. Think of them as wheelchair ramps or handicapped parking spaces. That’s the way fair housing laws see them.

Understanding the Role of Service Animals

Service animals are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. That disability could be a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Examples of a service animal would be a Seeing Eye Dog or a Seizure Response Dog. These animals often come with credentials and are easily identified. They can be any breed, age, or size.

Understanding Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals or therapy animals are often part of a prescribed treatment plan administered by a medical professional. They provide companionship and often treat depression and anxiety. They don’t have any special training, however, and they are not considered service animals under the ADA. However, they do qualify as accommodations under the Fair Housing Act. Just like with service animals, you must allow them because they are not considered pets.

With service animals, you are not permitted to ask for documentation or certification. However, with an emotional support animal, you can ask to see the written treatment plan that prescribed the support animal. You are entitled to talk to the medical professional and to review his or her credentials and license.

Protecting your Property from Damage

Many landlords don’t allow pets in their homes because they worry about property damage. While this concern is understandable, you will face damages that are more expensive and punitive by violating the ADA or the Fair Housing Act. You must allow otherwise qualified tenants to move in with their service animals or their support animals, otherwise you will be out of compliance with some very serious housing laws. The tenant is still responsible for the animal, and must clean up after it and ensure it behaves and isn’t a nuisance.

If you have any questions about how to navigate the area of emotional support animals and service animals, please contact us at AustinVestors Property Management. We spend a lot of time staying on top of legal changes, and we’d be happy to help you.

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Jeff Clawson

Jeff Clawson has been a lifelong Central Texas Resident. Jeff was raised in Williamson County near Georgetown and Liberty Hill. Jeff graduated with a BA in Economics from the University of Texas at Au....

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