What's the Difference Between Pets, Service Animals, and Emotional Support Animals?

What's the Difference Between Pets, Service Animals, and Emotional Support Animals?

This is one of those real estate investing issues that can land you in a lawsuit fast. How fast? It only takes one wrong answer to a person who is a member of a protected class.

If you're not 100% confident about your pet policy or how to respond to potential tenants with service animals, you're in the right place.


This is the easy one. Pets are animals that people keep as companions. They are typically not trained to perform a specific task for an individual, and there's no legal protection for a pet owner. Pets are not legally protected, so you're within your rights as a landlord to have a "no pets" policy.

If you allow pets, you can also charge fees, deposits, and pet rent as permitted by local laws.

Typical Rules and Regulations for Landlords:

● Pet deposits or pet rent.

● Restrictions on types or sizes of pets.

● Requirements for pet behavior and noise.

Benefits of Allowing Pets:

● Attracting a wider range of potential tenants.

● Potentially higher rental income.

Service Animals

Service animals are specifically trained to perform tasks for individuals with disabilities. They are not pets; they serve a functional role for their handlers.

Legal Protections:

● The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) offers strong protections for service animal owners. Under the ADA, landlords cannot refuse housing or charge extra fees for service animals.

Examples of Service Animal Tasks:

● These animals might guide the blind, alert deaf individuals to sounds, assist someone in a wheelchair, or even alert and protect someone having a seizure.


● Landlords can ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what task it's trained to perform. However, they cannot demand special IDs for the animal or ask about the person's disability.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals (ESAs) provide therapeutic benefits to individuals with mental or emotional disabilities. Unlike service animals, they don't need specific training.

Legal Protections:

● The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects ESA owners. Landlords generally can't refuse housing or charge extra fees for ESAs. However, there are exceptions, especially if the animal poses a threat or undue burden.

Differences from Service Animals:

● ESAs don't require specific training and aren't covered under the ADA in public places.


● Landlords can request a letter from a licensed mental health professional verifying the need for the ESA. They cannot, however, inquire about the specifics of the individual's disability.

Service Animal Best Practices for San Antonio Landlords

Clear Communication

Always ensure that your lease agreements have a clear and comprehensive pet policy. Remember that service animals and emotional support animals are not pets and are protected by federal laws.

Stay Updated on Laws

Laws and regulations can change. Regularly review federal, state, and local laws regarding service animals and ESAs.

Seek Assistance

If you're unsure of managing the situation yourself, hiring an experienced property management company can solve the problem immediately.

We have legally compliant policies that are followed for each and every service animal or ESA application we receive. The laws are very specific down to the words of the questions that can be asked. Our expert team is ready to work with applicants and ensure that all legal standards are upheld.

If you have further questions or want more information about how we work with tenants and their service animals, don't hesitate to get in touch with me directly.

Sam Maropis

PMI Profit Realty