Service animals are protected accommodations that people with disabilities are entitled to when they rent your home. A lot of Chula Vista landlords struggle with how to define a service animal and what it means for their rental property, especially if they’ve always had a strict policy against allowing pets.
What you need to know is that service animals are not pets. You cannot treat them that way. Instead, they’re accommodations, and legally protected.
It’s easy to make a mistake when it comes to service animals, and we want to spend some time talking about how to keep yourself in compliance when you’re renting out a home to a tenant with a disability.
Defining Service Animals
The Americans with Disabilities Act requirements were recently updated to define the scope of what a service animal actually is. According to their 2020 guidelines, here is how to define service animals:
“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and 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, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”
Two important things should stand out for anyone who owns a Chula Vista rental property. First, service animals are dogs. At one time, miniature horses could serve as service animals. Not anymore. Any tenant who claims that an animal other than a dog is a service animal has been misinformed. Second, as we’ve already stated – service animals are not pets. You cannot charge a pet fee or collect a pet deposit. You cannot charge pet rent or limit the breed or size of a service animal.
How Service Animals and Companion Animals Differ
Service animals are always dogs and they work for tenants who have disabilities that are often easy to detect. You don’t need to ask a tenant why they need a Seeing Eye Dog. Service animals are certified and trained. Sometimes, they wear something identifying that they are a service animal.
Companion animals may be emotional support animals or therapy dogs. The law treats them just a little differently. You cannot disallow them, but you can ask for documentation if the disability is not immediately apparent. Companion and emotional support animals are different from service animals in that they can be any type of animal and they aren’t trained to do a specific task or serve a specific purpose. They offer comfort and support.
In these cases, you can ask your tenant for documentation from a medical professional explaining the disability and why the animal is required. Don’t be confrontational about it. Asking for documentation is permitted, but being difficult or expressing doubt can get you into legal trouble.
These are most basic things you need to know about service animals. Working with a Chula Vista property management company can protect you against mistakes that are easy to make when it comes to pets, service animals, and fair housing. If you’d like to talk this through with experienced professionals, please contact us at Encore Realty.