What Is the Difference Between Service, Emotional Support Animals and Pets

What Is the Difference Between Service, Emotional Support Animals and Pets

Finding your next perfect apartment only to realize it doesn't accept your furry family member is a major disappointment. You'll either have to keep looking or make the heartbreaking decision to leave them behind.

Over 25% of adults in the US have a disability. 47% say it's not at all or minimally accessible to them. Getting an animal to help them is more than a pet. Having a landlord turn them away is more than a disappointment.

Knowing the difference helps attract the right tenants and avoid legal issues. Read on to learn the differences between service and emotional support animals and pets.


Pets are animals that don't perform a specific service. This could be anything from a goldfish to a dog.

Allowing pets increases your pool of responsible tenants. You can also charge them additional rent or fees to drum up extra money. The risks include the potential for damage, noise, and odors.

Pet owners may not stay once they know that they aren't exempt from any current rental rules. This includes breed restrictions, fees, and blanket no-pet policies.

Service Animals

A service animal is a dog or miniature horse. They're trained to do a task related to their owner's disability.

Examples include:

  • Guide dogs
  • Hearing dogs
  • Psychiatric dogs
  • Mobility dogs
  • Autism assistance dogs
  • Seizure dogs

They have full public access rights to public spaces where animals may otherwise be forbidden. This includes housing with a no-pet policy. Not letting them in would be considered discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. They're also exempt from any pet fees or rent because they aren't pets.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals don't have to be dogs. They're not trained to perform a specific task but can ease the symptoms of mental disabilities such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Learning disabilities
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Chronic stress
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

The animal must be prescribed by a mental health professional. Falsely reporting one is a misdemeanor thanks to a new law passed in 2020.

Discrimination laws apply to emotional support animals when there's a proven need for them. They can enter St Louis rentals where pets wouldn't be allowed and are exempt from pet fees or rent.

A therapy dog provides support to others but is not technically an emotional support animal. They visit emotionally charged clinical settings such as hospitals and schools to provide a healing presence. They're trained and licensed to do so but have no legal protections as to where they can live. They're not a legally required exception to a landlord's pet policy.

Where Can I Get Help With Difficult Distinctions Like These?

Landlords may turn every tenant with an animal away, but it depends on what type it is.

Pets are simply companions, and you can create your own policy on which ones to let it. Service and support animals help those with disabilities. Refusing them can become a legal headache.

Giving these daily issues to the experts at St. Louis Property Management can maximize the profitability of your investment. Get in touch to see the power of our property management process today.