What counts as a service animal? Can a goat be an emotional support animal? Whether you are a landlord with a “no pets” policy or a tenant with an ESA or service animal, tread lightly! You do not want to be uniformed when it comes to the Fair Housing or Americans With Disabilities Acts.
A service animal helps someone with a disability. They are not considered pets under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), so landlords need to be very careful when asking questions. Only dogs, small horses, and ponies can qualify as service animals under the law. Service animals must be specifically trained to perform a specific task to help their owner, such as alerting their owner to medical danger or predicting a seizure. In fact, a service animal is considered to be an assistive device in the same manner a cane or a walker would be.
Landlords need to be very careful when asking questions to a prospective tenant with a service animal. Only two questions are permitted to be asked:
Further care needs to be taken if the person has a visible disability, such as being in a wheelchair. In cases where the disability is readily observable, an accompanying animal is assumed to be a service animal. Although it may seem to be a reasonable question, landlords are not allowed to ask the person what their disability is.
An emotional support animal (or ESA) falls under a much broader set of rules for acceptance. Just about any animal can be considered an ESA as long as the tenant shows a psychologist or mental health professional letter of approval.
Only two questions can be asked of someone with an emotional support animal:
If the owner answers no to either of those questions, he or she is not eligible for an ESA and the animal is treated like any other pet. If the answer to both is yes, the landlord has to make reasonable modifications to current policies.
Although none of us could argue that a police dog is not a working dog, police dogs are not qualified under the Fair Housing Act nor the Americans with Disabilities act and are treated like any other pet.
If you are completely against animals occupying your rental property, what can you do? The simple answer—nothing! Both emotional support animals and service animals are protected in some form under the Federal Housing Act or Americans with Disabilities Act. Ask the two questions that are permitted and make your decision appropriately.
How do you feel about service animals? Should a property owner have the right to refuse housing to someone with a service or emotional support animal? Do you own one and have had problems? Let us know!