Renting Rules for Your Service Dog

Renting Rules for Your Service Dog

Are you moving into a rental and don't know what are the rules surrounding service animals? We know, it can get a little confusing. 

There's a lot of misinformation out there regarding guide dogs. Unfortunately, some landlords use this against those trying to rent with a service dog.😰

In this article, we'll be discussing everything there is to know about renting with a service dog. We're also going to bust some common myths surrounding the topic. 

What's a service dog or animal? 

Service dogs (or animals) are crucial helpers in their owners' lives. They help people with their disabilities so that they can live more independently. 

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs are the following. "A dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities". These animals are protected by the ADA and allow their owners to bring them to just about anywhere. 

Service dogs assist all sorts of medical needs. Guide dogs assist the visually impaired. Medical alert dogs detect the first signs of a medical issue (seizures or low blood sugar). Psychiatric service dogs will help any individual with a psychiatric disability. This could be something like OCD, PTSD, schizophrenia, etc. 

What's the difference between service animals and emotional support animals? 

Many ask if there's a difference between service dogs vs. emotional support animals

Yes, they definitely fall into different categories. Emotional support animals (EDA) are not specifically trained to service any type of disability. Additionally, they do not have the same legal rights as service dogs. 

We all know they tremendously help their owner's independence and mental health. Many people opt to get an animal to help with their anxiety, stress, or depression. However, emotional support animals are not trained to aid with a disability. As such, they're not protected under the ADA. 

That means people can reject the entry of your EDA in public places or when renting. 

What animal rights and regulations protect service dogs when renting?

It's critical that landlords obey all laws and regulations involving service dogs.

First, the FHA states that a service animal doesn't pay any rent, fees, and deposits. There should be no extra fees charged to the renter for allowing their service dog to live in the apartment. Also, using “allergies” or a “fear of dogs” is not a valid excuse that can be used by landlords. If they refuse to rent out a unit to a quality tenant with a service dog because of it, they can get in a lot of trouble.

What the landlord can do is ask for documentation. These records explain the disability and why the service animal is necessary. There are cases where your dog is an Emotional Support Animal. This brings us into new territory. In this case, the tenant can do one of few things. They can ask for a letter from a licensed professional proving why they need an ESA. This can be a qualified therapist, psychiatrist, or a psychologist.

Also, landlords may ask for the dog’s vaccination records to ensure it’s in good health and parasite-free. In some states, landlords can request a good health certificate from a licensed vet.

However, if the following are true, landlords can deny your service dog, and you can get evicted as a tenant.

  • If the animal is out of control and the handler hasn’t taken effective action to control it.
  • If the service animal hasn’t been house-trained.
  • If the animal poses a threat to the safety or health of others.

As a tenant with a service dog, make sure to provide all necessary legal documentation. If you do and you're still refused housing, you've got options to dispute it. File for a discrimination complaint with HUD. You can also file one with your state's agency in the sector that handles those cases. 

Myth #1: The service animal must have certification

Okay, this one may seem kind of confusing. 😅 The truth is, there's no official certification for service animals in the US. What you do have are private institutions that register and certify your service dog. That's why you're not technically required to certify your animal. However, it's strongly recommended you do so if you're looking to rent. 

Two organizations that provide this service are Service Dogs Certification and USA Service Dog Registration. Check them out if you're looking to get your service dog registered! 

Myth #2: Some breeds cannot be service animals

Service dogs don't follow any breed and weight restrictions. So, yes- even banned breeds like pitbulls can be service animals. You're free to choose any dog to be your guide. 🙌 As long as they're providing you with a valuable service, they're good to go! 

Myth #3: Private properties can overwrite federal laws

Landlords have the right to refuse any pet, except when it’s a service animal. A service dog is not a regular pet. They're providing you with an essential service. So, landlords can't refuse your dog or use it to discriminate against you.

Myth #4: Service dogs have to be formally trained  

This may be shocking news, but service dogs don't have to complete training programs. First of all, there are different types of service dogs. You can have an Emotional Support Animal, a Service Dog, or a Therapy dog. Since dogs can provide different services, they require different forms of training. Your dog may need specific training to complete certain tasks. Yet, the ADA doesn't oblige any animal to complete formal training. 

Now, if your service animal causes any damage to the rental apartment, you're going to have to pay. It doesn't matter whether they're a service dog or a regular pet. 

Myth #5: Landlords can reject an Emotional Support Animal if they believe the disability is unjustified

Absolutely not. Although ESA's are not considered to be under the same laws as service dogs, landlords cannot do this. 

HUD works in a tiered system. Service animals are part of the highest tier (meaning they get full immunity). Yet, emotional support animals still fall under the same tier system. This means that a landlord cannot decline your ESA if it helps your disability. 

Even if the dog only offers emotional or therapeutic support, they still override no-pet policies. 

Myth #6: You need documentation for your service dog 

Again, the answer is no. Presenting a doctor's note or an ID card is not required. However, it does make your life easier. 

People are only allowed to ask you the following two questions about your service dog. 

  1. ▪️ Does the service animal assist with a disability? 
  2. ▪️ What tasks or work is the dog trained to perform?  

Myth #7: Service animal laws differ by every state 

And the 'no's' keep coming. This one is also not true! The ADA is a federal law, meaning it covers anyone in the US. That means that your service dog will get treated the same no matter where you are in the US. 

However, it's important to note this tidbit. Specific states can have unique regulations. 

For example, in some states, it's recommended that your guide dog wears a harness or an orange-colored leash in public spaces. 


Let's recap what it's like to rent with a service dog. A service dog will assist someone with a medical disability. Meanwhile, an emotional support animal helps emotionally or therapeutically. Service dogs are covered by the ADA and have to be accepted by landlords. ESA's are similar, but landlords may require documentation like a doctor's note. There are many rules in place that allow you to rent with a guide dog, no matter what the circumstance is. There are also tons of myths to be mindful of when finding a rental with a service animal. Some include that guide dogs have to be certified and formally trained. Others say you have to present documentation for your service dog. Those aren't true. No one can overwrite the laws established by the ADA. Contrary to popular belief, all breeds can be service animals. There are also service animal regulations that differ by state, but federal laws are all the same. 


You've reached the end of the article! We hope we've enlightened you on what it's like to rent an apartment with a service animal. See- it's totally not as daunting as some may think! 😅

If you liked this information, check out Lighthouse on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We offer more content about renting!

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