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Tenant rights and service animals: What you should know

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), tenants with disabilities have a right to have a service animal -- even if animals aren't normally permitted in the lease.

However, tenants need to understand the limitations on the law and exactly what rights they do -- and don't -- have.

Service animals and emotional support animals

Service animals are highly-trained to perform specific tasks for a disabled individual. A dog, for example, can be trained to assist someone who is mobility impaired with certain tasks. Dogs can also detect seizures before they happen and tell when a diabetic's blood sugar levels are dangerously low. Service animals are not considered pets.

Under the law, only dogs and -- in some cases -- miniature horses can be trained as service animals. As long as they are performing a service directly related to the individual's disability, they do not necessarily need to be certified by any particular agency to be considered a service animal.

By contrast, an emotional support animal can be virtually any animal under the sun, including dogs and miniature horses. They can also be cats, birds, guinea pigs, rabbits and other common pets. They are not specifically trained to perform any tasks, and their primary job is to provide comfort.

The rights of tenants to accommodation

Service animals are generally covered by the ADA and can reside with a tenant.

Someone with a disability who wishes to live with an emotional support animal, however, can request permission for the animal to be permitted in the rental. Such a request could be considered a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. However, the question automatically becomes, "What is reasonable, and what puts an unfair burden on the landlord?"

Sometimes, there's no easy answer to questions involving reasonable accommodation and disabilities. If you're a tenant who is having trouble obtaining reasonable accommodations from your landlord, an attorney can help you better understand your rights and obligations.

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