Service Animals in Short-term Rentals and How They Differ From Pets

People often speak of both Service Animals (SAs) and Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) under the same all-encompassing terms, which can cause confusion. There are major differences and specific ways short-term and vacation rental managers must care for guests with service animals. Learn more about service animals in short-term rentals.

Pets, Emotional Support and Service Animals in Short-term Rentals

service animals in vacation rentals rule

Service Animals are not pets but rather classified as an extension of the disabled person themselves, much like a wheelchair or hearing aid. Emotional Support Animals are classified as companions and only require a certification from a doctor or medical therapist to designate the animal as an ESA.

Regardless of the classification, service animals and support animals both have legal protections under federal law and cannot be denied access to places of public accommodation including short-term rentals — no matter the pet-status of the property. While these working dogs may be factored in as part of the unit occupancy, they are not subject to any pet fees or additional costs.

Service Animals Are Not Pets (no matter how cute)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that states all public entities are required to allow Service Animals to enter. Emotional Support Animals do not have legal protections under the ADA. However, they do fall under the protections of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which applies to all types of housing, both public and privately-owned, including short-term rentals.

Under these laws when considering a Service Animal request for accommodation, a public entity may only ask these two questions:

  1. Is the animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

A public entity MAY NOT:

  • Ask what the disability is, or any questions regarding the disability
  • Request a demonstration from the dog
  • Require the registration, certification documents, letter from a physician, etc.
  • Ask for ID cards, harness, or vest with service animal insignia
  • Charge a pet-fee

The law states if a request for special accommodation of a Service Animal is made, housing providers — such as short-term rental managers and homeowner associations — are obligated to permit, as a reasonable accommodation, the use of animals that work, aid, or perform tasks that benefit persons with a disability, or provide emotional support to alleviate a symptom or effect of a disability.

pet free vacation rentals rules

Pet-Free as an Extenuating Circumstance

Strictly ‘animal free’ properties due to homeowner allergies, HOA (Homeowners Association) restrictions, or similar circumstances, may be exempt from hosting as an extenuating circumstance if reasonable accommodation for the disabled person can otherwise be provided. For example, a designated ‘Allergy Free’ unit may be noted in the property description, including the features that designate the property to be allergy free such as Hepa-filters, air filtration devices, and the use of fragrance-free detergents, cleaning supplies, and soaps.

Bottom line: When a guest asks to bring a Service Animal, say yes! Hospitality is about meeting the traveler’s needs and helping make everyone feel welcome. Anything short-term rental managers do as a host to alleviate the burden of traveling with an animal while disabled is a welcome reception for any guest.

pets service animals in short term rentals

Frequently Asked Service Animal Q&As

Q: Can you require that Service Animals be certified or registered?
A: No. Covered entities may not require documentation of a service animal as a condition for entry.

Q: Can Service Animals be any breed of dog?
A: Yes. The ADA only recognizes dogs and miniature horses as service animals. The ADA does not restrict the type of dog breeds that can be service animals.

Q: Are Emotional Support Animals considered Service Animals?
A: No but local laws might still require that you accommodate these animals. ESAs should always be discussed between the host and the guest.

Q: Can I charge cleaning fees/pet fees for guests who have service animals?
A: No. Hosts are not permitted to charge any additional fees for the Service Animal. However, if a service animal causes damage to a unit, hosts may charge for damages the same as all guests.

Q: Are guests allowed to leave their Service Animals alone when they leave?
A: No. The dog must be under the handler’s control at all times.

Q: Can hosts restrict Service Animals to pet-friendly units out of consideration for other guests?
A: No. A guest with a disability who uses a Service Animal must be provided the same opportunity to reserve any available unit as other guests without disabilities.

Want to welcome pet owners? Here are some tips about making rentals more pet-friendly.

Article by: Valerie Goodman, iTrip Operations Account Manager