The terms “emotional support animal” and “service animal” are much more familiar in the United States than they are in the UK; in the former, the federal Fair Housing Act recognises an emotional support animal as a “reasonable accommodation” for someone with a disability.
An emotional support animal – also known in the U.S. as an assistance animal – is not a pet, but a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability.
Service animals, meanwhile, are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities, with an obvious example here in the UK being a guide dog for the blind.
So, what are your rights as a landlord in relation to refusing various types of helper dogs? Can a landlord refuse a service dog or emotional support dog, and how does the legal situation differ across these two categories?
Clear laws exist about landlords, tenants and guide dogs
Housing providers and landlords of rented property in the UK are subject to the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland, which state that it is against the law to discriminate against a blind or partially sighted person – such as a guide dog owner.
Guide or service dogs are not pets but mobility aids, and it is the landlord’s duty to make reasonable adjustments in amending their ‘no dogs’ policy in accordance with this.
As a landlord, you are not permitted to discriminate against a prospective or current tenant on the basis of their use of a guide dog. In addition, you must make other reasonable adjustments, such as providing contracts and information in an accessible format and allocating a spending area where the dog can relieve itself.
Even if you have a ‘no dogs’ policy in place, this should not apply to guide or service dogs, given that they are essential aids to the tenant’s daily life, supporting their independence and wellbeing.
The legal situation relating to emotional support dogs is less certain
The answer to the question “can a landlord refuse an emotional support dog?” is more likely to be yes, not least because it isn’t yet possible in the UK for an emotional support dog to be formally registered with and recognised by the government.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that as a landlord, you can automatically refuse any emotional support dog. The tenant may have a case to be permitted to live with a dog in the property if they have a condition that can be diagnosed as a disability under equality legislation.
If the tenant’s condition in question has lasted for more than 12 months and meets the other legal criteria to be considered a disability, they may have some rights that give service providers such as landlords the legal obligation to provide access for them.
If, though, the emotional support animal can only be categorised as a pet, these can be refused via a ‘no pets’ policy, much as would be the case with any other pet – provided that you have reasonable grounds for such a refusal, such as the animal being a large vigorous dog that could easily damage the property.
If you discover that your tenant is keeping such a pet in the property without your permission despite the tenant agreement disallowing this, you have the right to evict them from the property on the basis of breach of contract.
From amending any ‘no dogs’ policy to make clear that guide dogs are exempt, right through to exploring the potential implications and your options if your tenant wishes to bring an emotional support dog into the property, there are various steps that you will likely need to take on the still sometimes-unclear matter of accepting or rejecting a service or other dog in your property.