What’s the Difference Between a Service Animal and a Support Animal?

You may remember hearing about Dexter, the emotional support peacock that was denied the right to board a United Airlines flight to Los Angeles. This was an unusual case of a support animal, which are more commonly dogs or cats. However, the giant bird, perched on a luggage trolley at the airport, certainly drew attention. It also put support animals at the forefront of public discourse, prompting many people to ask “What is a support animal?”

For business owners, including landlords, understanding both support animals and service animals is essential to make sure that you’re following the law. There are many federal offices and laws involved in the rules surrounding these animals. From the Americans with Disabilities Act to the HUD office and the Air Carrier Access Act, plenty of regulations surround these furry (or feathered) friends.

Wondering whether you must make allowances for your tenants support peacock? Let’s find out! Here’s what you need to know about service and support animals, the differences between them and how this topic relates to property management.

What’s a Service Animal?

Service animals help individuals with disabilities or medical conditions in specific ways. They perform certain tasks or jobs related to the medical condition. For example, a dog might lead a person who is blind. Or, a dog might serve as a medical alert dog, noticing when a diabetic person has low blood sugar. According to the ADA, only dogs or miniature horses can be service animals. However, there is no licensing system or official training for these animals, despite the fact that to do their jobs, they often do go through lots of training. Service animals are also often trained to behave well in public and to pay close attention to their handler.

Also, you must accompany service animals in public spaces. This includes businesses, as long as the animals are well-behaved and not putting others at risk.

What’s an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal does exactly what it sounds like they do. They provide comfort for a people who differently abled, is non-neurotypical, or has special needs in a particular way. However, these animals aren’t necessarily trained, and they may not perform any specific tasks. Their simple presence is their way of supporting the individual. Contrary to the peacock case which caused many to question the legitimacy of support animals, there are many more stories that show just how animals can help humans stay calm and navigate life. For example, this support cat helps her owner through depression, anxiety, and OCD.

Another important distinction from service animals is that breed or size does not restrict support animals. That means that a peacock could be a legitimate emotional support animal. However, federal regulations do grant airlines some discretion about which types of animals they allow on flights. This discretion doesn’t extend to housing, as you’ll see below.

What Are the Rules Related to Housing?

Both service and support animals must be given accommodations under the federal laws outlined by the Housing and Urban Development office. However, there are some instances in which landlords can reject a tenant or their emotional support animal. For example, if you own an apartment building with small apartments, you may not have to accommodate a large animal such as a horse. Other specific types of housing are also exempt from accommodating support and service animals.

It’s also important to note that service and support animals are not classified as pets. They are working animals. So, this means that fees related to pets may not apply to tenants who use these service and support animals.

You have permission to ask for documentation that confirms the emotional support animal does provide the individual with relevant support. However, you can’t request medical records or details about the individual’s diagnosis if this information isn’t readily apparent.

Due to the sensitivity of the laws surrounding support and service animals and housing, it’s best to consult an expert such as A Creative Property Management or a lawyer before proceeding with any specific case. The last thing you want is to have a complaint from the HUD slapped down on your desk!

So, in all likelihood, you probably won’t run into a person requesting accommodation for their emotional support peacock. But, when you make the request, it’s possible that you may have to allow the animal to live in your building granted the tenant meets all of the requirements.

You’re much more likely to encounter requests for support or service dogs, which are much easier to accommodate. With great landlord-tenant relationships, there’s no reason you can’t navigate this topic with ease and without breaking any laws.