Service Animals vs Therapy Animals

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I want to have an honest conversation with you as a landlord. My goal is to give you solid advice whether you are my client or not.

As landlords you have all probably encountered a situation where an applicant has applied for your home and has a pet. Pet’s are one of the few categories that Landlords can deny an application based specifically on having a pet. Landlords are also able to market rental homes or properties as “NO PETS” as well. This is all completely legal and a common practice. However, a frequently asked question we come across is “what about service animals” or “I have a therapy dog”. What should a landlord do when faced with that situation?

The answer to these questions are both specific and vague depending on how you look at it. To clarify, there are two main documents or laws that address this pertaining the leasing of property to the public. The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA, and the Fair Housing Act. A simple google search on “service dogs and rental homes” will show you that this question

The ADA is very clear on this. If the animal is defined as a Service Animal, which requires specific training and documentation then that animal is no longer considered a “Pet” and requires specific performance by a landlord. In short, you cannot deny an applicant with a Service Animal and you also cannot charge an additional “pet fee” as you may normally do.

This is fairly cut and dry, Therapy and Emotional Support Animals do not qualify for protection under ADA unless they are a licensed service animal.
However, ADA is only one law and there is one other law that you have to think about. This law is called the Fair Housing Act. Under this law, there is similar wording. Service Animals are protected just as in the ADA. Where it gets interesting is the fact that Emotional or Therapy Animals per the FHA could at times be protected as well. It basically indicates that it is up to the homeowner/landlord to determine whether or not it meets the criteria.

What does this mean to you as a homeowner or landlord? It’s a risk vs return decision point. Are you willing to argue in a court of law that your tenant is or is not assisted by the animal in a service capacity? If not, you should probably allow the pet to live in the home and not charge a “Pet Fee/Pet Deposit” provided they supply the proper documentation.

That said, you still can charge a Security Deposit to your renters and should damage occur in the property utilize the Security Deposit in accordance with the NC Tenant Security Deposit Act.

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