Difference Between Service, Emotional Support Animals and Pets

Difference Between Service, Emotional Support Animals and Pets

American households love their pets! Recent research shows that around 62% of households in the U.S. have at least one pet. The presence of animals in a home doesn't always mean that they're pets, however.

Animals play many roles in a person's life, from pets to emotional support animals to service animals. How do you tell the difference between the three, and what are your responsibilities as a landlord? Read on to learn the basics of allowing animals in your rental property.

Service Animals

The term "service animal" refers to a specific subset of animals defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Generally, service animals are dogs that are trained to perform a specific task related to a person's disability.

The most common example of service animals is seeing eye dogs for the visually impaired, but they can play a wide variety of roles. Service animals can help detect seizures and notify the owner in advance so they can get in a safe position. They can also aid people with diabetes and PTSD.

Service animals do not need to have certification, nor do they need to wear any kind of identification vest. They can go anywhere the general public is permitted to go, including shared property areas from which pets are prohibited, like pools.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals are not considered service animals under the ADA. They may have training and provide emotional support to their owner, but they don't have specific tasks that they need to carry out to assist someone with a disability.

ESAs help people who deal with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and some phobias. They're prescribed by mental health professionals to people who have qualifying diagnoses.

Unlike service animals, ESAs do not have unfettered access to public and shared spaces. Regardless, ESAs still have more rights than pets.


A pet is any type of animal kept by someone for their own enrichment and companionship. They range from cats and dogs to fish, hamsters, lizards, snakes, and many other species of animal. Pets do not have any kind of special protection, and landlords may choose to permit or restrict them as necessary.

Landlords are well within their right to perform regular inspections to ensure that tenants comply with their leases and don't have undeclared pets in their homes.

Landlord Responsibilities

As a landlord, it's important to understand your legal responsibilities in all aspects of property management. Per the Fair Housing Act, landlords must permit service animals and emotional support animals in their property as is reasonable. Do not refer to them as a service pet, because they are not pets.

If you aren't sure how to navigate the FHA, then hiring a property management company can help you determine how to respond to a request for a service animal or ESA.

Will You Allow Animals in Your Rental?

People have animals in their homes for a number of different reasons. As a landlord, it's critical to understand the difference between emotional support animals, service animals, and pets. This knowledge will help you understand your responsibilities, and shape your property's lease agreement and animal policy.

If you're a Utah rental property owner, then you're no stranger to the stressors associated with the landlord-tenant relationship. Imagine the relief that comes with hiring an experienced, knowledgeable property management company to take those stressors off your plate. Contact PMI Wasatch Front today to learn how we can help you!