A service animal is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act as a dog that has been “individually trained to do work or duties for a person with a disability.” Keeping this in mind, entities must permit persons with disabilities and their service animals access to all locations open to the general public, which may include vacation rentals.
However, according to research conducted by Guide Dogs in the United Kingdom, 75% of assistance dog owners had been denied access to a service – such as self-catering alternative housing – due to their assistance dog.
As a topic that frequently makes headlines, we’d want to dissect some of the major talking points around service animals and vacation rentals.
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Americans with Disabilities Act and service animals
According to the ADA, a “place of public accommodation” is lodging maintained by a private company, such as an inn, hotel, or motel, or a facility that offers short-term rentals (i.e., fewer than 30 days) with comparable amenities to a hotel. In that sense, holiday rental operators may argue that their properties are not subject to the ADA. This is because vacation rentals, on the whole, do not have rooms accessible for walk-ins or calls, nor do they accept reservations without guaranteeing a specific room until check-in.
Under US law, hosts are not permitted to inquire about service animals or disabilities in any way they like. Hosts are permitted to ask guests only two questions:
- Is the dog required as a service animal due to a disability?
- For what job or task has the dog been trained?
While each instance should be evaluated on its own merits, unless the vacation rental is structured similarly to a short-stay hotel, it potentially falls beyond the scope of the ADA.
Is vacation rental housing covered by the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the housing market. The FHA, like the ADA, is meant to protect people with disabilities and is frequently mentioned in discussions about service animals and holiday rentals.
The FHA does not specifically address short-term rentals; however, it does state that “transient” or similar transitory accommodation is not covered by this legislation. With that said, it may be difficult for visitors to demonstrate in court that they have the right to service or emotional support animals in a vacation rental.
What are the rules on listing sites involving service animals and holiday rentals?
While the ADA may not apply in your circumstance, many listing sites and OTAs have their service animal policies and regulations. If in doubt, it’s usually a good idea to check the policies of the website with which you’re listed.
Airbnb’s policy on service animals
Airbnb’s service animal policy recognizes that these canines perform a critical function for their owners and also complies with the company’s anti-discrimination policy. This means that hosts are required to accommodate reservations that include a service animal as a member of the visiting party. This includes listings with non-pet-friendly housing restrictions or regulations.
If your house is animal-free owing to allergies or other compulsions, Airbnb strongly advises hosts to include this information in their listing description.
Airbnb’s policy on emotional support animals
Airbnb’s emotional support animal policy is governed by the full set of Airbnb assistance animal standards. There are two types of assistance animals: service animals (i.e., seeing-eye dogs) and emotional support animals. While emotional support animals are frequently used in conjunction with medical treatment and/or therapy, they do not perform a specific role in the same way as service animals do.
According to Airbnb’s policy, emotional support animals must be treated the same as service animals. Having stated that, unless extenuating circumstances exist, hosts must adhere to the guideline regardless of whether the animal is classified as emotional support or service.
Airbnb policy violation regarding pets
Bear in mind that the Airbnb pet policy is distinct from the Airbnb assistance animal policy. Having stated that violations of the assistance animal policy may result in the animal’s removal in the following circumstances:
- The animal is out of control, and the handler is powerless to rein it in.
- The animal is not completely housebroken.
In some instances, hosts may request the animal’s removal, but the guest retains the option of staying at the accommodation without the animal.
Vrbo policy on service animals
Similar to Airbnb, the Vrbo service animal policy compels property owners and managers in the United States to accommodate travelers who require the assistance of a service dog. This is an overriding policy that takes precedence over the holiday rental’s standard house rules regarding animals.
According to the Vrbo policy, property owners are not permitted to require documentation for a service animal. Vrbo’s policy on service animals is not subject to local regulations, HOA restrictions, or breed limitations. Hosts who wish to list on this site must adhere to their service animal policy.
Vrbo policy on emotional support animals
When it comes to the allowance of emotional support animals, Vrbo leaves a lot more room for interpretation. According to Vrbo’s policy on service animals, emotional support animals should be discussed between the host and visitor.
Although the Vrbo service animal policy expressly excludes emotional support animals, keep in mind that local regulations may force you to accommodate these animals.
Infraction of the Vrbo pet policy
As with Airbnb, Vrbo’s pet policy is distinct from its policy regarding assistance animals. Nevertheless, there are consequences for violating the service animal laws. The host may request the animal’s removal if the animal is wreaking havoc on the premises. Nonetheless, complaints and violations of the Vrbo service animal policy will be examined on an individual basis.
Vrbo states that violating their service animal policy may result in the temporary or permanent removal of a property from the platform for hosts or the prohibition of guests from using the site.
Is it mandatory for vacation rentals to allow emotional support animals?
There has been considerable disagreement regarding the inclusion of emotional support animals in holiday rentals. Some hosts are hesitant to provide accommodations to visitors who require emotional support animals out of concern about property damage or misuse.
While emotional support animals are not explicitly trained to do a specific duty, they are medically justified and beneficial to certain guests with impairments or additional needs. Bear in mind that, at the end of the day, the visitor experience is everything. Certain tourists require an emotional support animal to enjoy their holiday.
Emotional support animals are distinct from service animals and are not protected under the ADA. Because ESAs are not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, hosts retain the authority to reject accommodations under this statute. Bear in mind that additional rules, such as the OTA standards described above, may force you to adhere to the rules regarding the hosting of an emotional support animal
Simply because you have the right to refuse to host an emotional support animal does not mean you should. Bear in mind that any type of visitor selection might affect your vacation rental’s reputation and reviews.
Is it possible for service animals to do damage to my property?
On the whole, service animals are extensively trained – both for their job and for housetraining – and as a result, they would rarely cause harm to your property. Naturally, accidents do occur with any guests staying at your vacation property. As a result, it’s prudent to have vacation rental insurance in place and to charge a security deposit to all travelers.
Thus, hosts retain a portion (or the entire) of the damage deposit to pay for any damage to the property.
Is it permissible to charge a fee for service animals?
No, in general. Many hosts’ instinct is to charge a pet fee; nevertheless, service animals are not pets and should not be treated as such. Most listing platforms, such as Airbnb, prohibit hosts from charging additional costs to visitors who bring an assistance animal.
Under certain technicalities, service animals may be considered an “additional guest” and, depending on the listing site, may be charged an additional guest fee. Regardless, charging an additional guest fee for a service animal is ill-advised, as there may be a significant reaction from guests.
The takeaway: service animals are not pets, but rather visitors.
“It is illegal for property owners to discriminate against people with disabilities while renting their premises, according to the legislation”, explained Lodgable. With the increased use of websites such as Airbnb for finding and booking short-term rental properties, there has been a surge in the number of bad experiences observed by disabled travelers.
Each vacation rental owner and the property manager are responsible for making suitable accommodations for service animals. Assistance dogs are not pets; they are mobility aids that undergo significant training to function and assist their owners.