The laws surrounding fair housing and discrimination are always changing. In recent years, many of the discrimination claims have been around service and support animals. This is still an area of the law that not a lot of landlords are familiar with, and that can get you into legal trouble.
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 have been in use for decades, and most landlords understand that they must be allowed, even if pets are not allowed. Now, we are seeing more and more tenants with 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.
Here’s a brief guide on how to manage emotional support and service animals in your central Florida rental home.
Let’s Look at 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.
In 2011, it was established that only dogs can be service animals.
Service animals provide specific tasks for people with disabilities. This might mean:
- 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.
Let’s Look at 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.
How to Manage Service and Support Animals in Orlando Rental Homes
As a landlord, you do not have to allow pets in your rental property. Pets are not protected.
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 supports.
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 at Park Avenue Property Management. We work in Lake Buena Vista, Orlando, Kissimmee, Celebration, Maitland, Altamonte Springs, West Palm Beach, Tampa Bay, and throughout central Florida.