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Companion Animal vs. Service Animal

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Pet policies are often easy to come up with when you’re renting out a Sacramento property. Either you’re going to accept them or you’re not. If you do provide a pet-friendly policy, you can place any restrictions you want on size, age, and breed.

Companion animals and service animals are a little different, however, and they can cause some confusion and mistakes among landlords and property owners who don’t understand the law and protections for people with disabilities. 

Today, we’re sharing some of the things you need to know to avoid making some expensive legal mistakes. 

Companion and Service Animals are Not Pets

Service animals and companion animals or emotional support animals are not pets. According to federal and state law, they are accommodations that you must make for residents and applicants who have disabilities. 

This means that you cannot deny an application or a resident's request to have a service animal or a companion animal if they are legally entitled to one. If you say no or explain that you’re a pet-free property, you will find yourself in violation of numerous fair housing and discrimination laws. 

You are also prohibited from charging a pet deposit, pet rent, or a pet fee when a resident has a companion or service animal. 

Understanding the Role of Service Animals

Service animals are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. That disability could be a physical, sensory, psychiatric, or intellectual. Examples of a service animal would be a Seeing Eye Dog or a Seizure Response Dog. These animals often come with credentials and are easily identified. They can be any breed, age, or size. 

Understanding Companion Animals

Companion animals are also referred to as emotional support animals or therapy animals. These animals are usually part of a prescribed treatment plan administered by a medical professional. They provide companionship and often treat depression and anxiety. Unlike a service animal, they don’t have any special training. However, they do qualify as accommodations under the Fair Housing Act. Just like with service animals, you must allow them because they are not considered pets. 

With service animals, you are not permitted to ask for documentation or certification. However, with a companion animal, you can ask to see the written treatment plan from a certified medical or healthcare professional. You have the authority to talk to the doctor or therapist and review that professional’s credentials.  

Protecting your Sacramento Rental Property from Damage

petsMany landlords don’t allow pets in their homes because they worry about property damage. 

While this concern is understandable, you will face damages that are more expensive and punitive by violating the ADA or the Fair Housing Act. You must allow otherwise qualified residents to move in with their service animals or their companion animals, otherwise you will be out of compliance with some very serious housing laws. 

The resident is still responsible for the animal, and must clean up after it and ensure it behaves and isn’t a nuisance. 

If you have any questions about how to navigate the area of companion animals and service animals, please contact us at Sacramento Delta Property Management. We’d be more than happy to help.

10-09-2020
Companion Animal vs. Service Animal | Sacramento Property Management Education
10-09-2020

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