Difference Between Service, Emotional Support Animals and Pets

Difference Between Service, Emotional Support Animals and Pets

About 66% of Americans own a pet or animal of some kind. Many of these Americans are also renters. Landlords need to understand the differences between various types of domestic household animals.

If you have an investment property you're renting out, you may be considering disallowing pets. Not all animals are pets, however. Many people also have service and support animals.

Read on to learn the differences between these animal companions.

Service Animals

Service animals may look like pets at first glance, but they're not. They're more like living and breathing medical or accessibility devices, not much different from a wheelchair or a hearing aid.

Service animals receive special training to perform specific tasks to assist people with disabilities. These animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and can legally be in public spaces, housing (including rental housing), and transportation.

Service animals are trained to assist with a wide range of tasks, such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, or providing mobility help for people with physical disabilities.

A service animal is a "reasonable accommodation" in most cases. Landlords can not charge pet fees or pet rent for service animals and they do not count as pets in a rental property.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals (ESAs, sometimes referred to as just "support animals") provide companionship and emotional support for people with mental or emotional disabilities. Someone with depression, PTSD, or anxiety may have an emotional support animal, for example.

ESAs are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) which allows them to accompany their owners in rental housing. They can't, however, go anywhere in public where pets are not allowed.

To qualify for an ESA, one must have a diagnosed mental or emotional condition and receive documentation from a healthcare professional. ESAs can include dogs, cats, birds, or other animals that provide emotional comfort and support.

Like with service animals, landlords can not charge pet rent or fees for ESAs. They do not count as pets. Landlords can, however, charge for any extra property maintenance or repairs if the ESA causes damage.


Pets are animals that are kept for companionship or pleasure. They're not trained to perform specific tasks or provide emotional support.

Pets have no protection under the ADA, FHA, or ACAA, and are subject to pet restrictions and fees in housing and public spaces. While pets can provide companionship and joy, they are not service animals or ESAs and do not have the same rights and access.

Landlords can refuse pets or charge fees for them if they so choose.

Not All Animals Are Pets

Pets, service animals, and support animals are all different. Not all animal companions are pets, and some have rights that supersede the desires of a landlord.

Knowing the difference and respecting your tenants' needs for animal companions will take you far.

Do you need help with your Miami property? From rental property inspections to marketing, PMI Biscayne Bay can help. We want to help you make the most of your property investment.

Reach out for a free consult today.