Understanding the 4 Main Differences Between Support Animals and Pets

Understanding the 4 Main Differences Between Support Animals and Pets

Property owners juggle many responsibilities. Whether to allow pets on a property is something they each must decide.

Support animals are another matter altogether. They have distinct protection under the law and demand different considerations.

This article explains four differences between pets and support animals. Keep reading to find out how these distinctions might impact your property management policies.

1. Purpose and Function

One of the most basic differences between pets and support animals is that pets are for companionship and enjoyment. They are not trained to perform specific tasks beyond sport or recreation.

Support animals provide assistance to individuals with disabilities. There are two types: service animals and emotional support animals (ESAs).

Service animals are those that can perform specific tasks related to a disability. Common support animal roles include seeing-eye dogs and seizure-alert dogs. ESAs give comfort and emotional support to people with disabilities.

2. Legal Protections

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people who qualify for service animals. It is illegal to discriminate against them based on this need. This includes rejecting a lease application because of the animal.

ESAs do not have the same protection under the ADA. However, there are Fair Housing Act standards that give them rights. In general, landlords must accommodate them, but they can set standards for the size and type of animal allowed (see below).

3. Documentation and Identification

Pets do not have any formal certification or registration requirements. Support animals have a distinct animal classification. Although, there are different ones for service animals and ESAs.

Owners of service animals should be able to show official registration from the state where they live. This confirms the animal's training and details the services they provide.

Certification of ESAs is less formal. Owners should be able to present a letter from a licensed mental health professional that states the animal's purpose. Property owners can (and should) ask for proof of both service animal and ESA certification.

Unlike pets, service animals must always wear designated vests or harnesses, indicating them as such. ESAs are not required to have this identification.

4. Fees and Property Standards

For pets, property owners can charge pet fees or security deposits to renters. They cannot charge them for any type of support animal, including service animals and ESAs.

Property owners cannot have pet regulations regarding the size or type of service animals that residents have. However, they can do so for pets or ESAs. Note that, with ESAs, such restrictions should be based on safety concerns or space limitations of the property.

Landlords can still set general standards for having animals in rental properties, regardless of whether they are pets or support animals. This includes owners cleaning up after them or ensuring they do not disturb or harm other tenants.

Learn More About Tenants' Rights and Support Animals

Now that you understand the main differences between support animals and pets, you can put appropriate policies in place. An experienced property management company can further advise you on pets and service animal rights.

PMI of the Midlands is a full-service property management company serving Omaha and the surrounding areas. We provide a variety of services, including lease management and pet fees. Reach out to us today to learn more.