Pet-Friendly Housing and Assistance Animals

By definition, service, therapy, emotional support dogs, and pets are different and subject to different laws.

Service dogs complete very specific training to work with humans who live with physical and/or intellectual disabilities. Service training ranges widely from medical alerting and guide work to assisting a person in recognizing important sensory signals like a fire alarm. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that service dogs have access to all public places where pets and other animals are not allowed. This includes rental housing where pets are not permitted.

Unlike emotional support dogs, therapy dogs aren’t trained to assist just one person. Therapy dogs are most often seen in medical and mental health clinical settings, hospitals, assisted living facilities, police departments, and more. The ADA does not recognize therapy dogs as service animals. Therefore, they do not have mandated access to public places. Currently, no state or federal guidelines are in place to define the qualifications of therapy dogs, and access to facilities and public places is at the discretion of the property owner. The ideal therapy dog has a calm temperament, has completed appropriate training, loves people, and does not react to unfamiliar sounds, touch, or changing environments.

Emotional support dogs are companions to people who live with post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, and more. The role of an emotional support dog is to provide comfort and companionship to people. Although typical, emotional support animals are not limited to dogs. ESAs can complete training but are not trained in specific tasks and duties similar to service dogs. The ADA does not recognize emotional support dogs as service animals. ESAs do not have unlimited access to public places, but they are entitled to “reasonable accommodation” per The Fair Housing Act when it comes to living with people in housing that does not allow pets. A letter of diagnosis is often required of a person’s healthcare provider for consideration of these accommodations.

Service animals in rental housing

It is illegal for landlords to prohibit service animals from rental property, even if that rental property is otherwise not pet-friendly. In 2011, HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development) issued a memo stating that dogs without specialized training, animals other than dogs, and emotional support animals must be allowed in housing settings under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504.

If you want to explore your rights to have an assistance animal in rental housing, contact the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center at 413-539-9796.

Pet deposits

Massachusetts General Laws, c. 186, s. 15B,  prohibits a landlord from collecting any money in advance of a new tenancy other than the first and last month's rent, a security deposit in an amount equal to or less than one month's rent, and the cost of installing a new lock.

If your landlord is already requiring these advance payments, they cannot collect a "pet deposit" or any other type of deposit. But they can charge a higher rent for people with pets or additional tenants or other factors that may add to wear and tear on the apartment.

These tips for landlords can help facilitate finding great, animal-loving renters while also protecting their property.

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