A service animal is a canine that has been “individually taught to accomplish labor or execute duties for a person with a handicap,” according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. With this in mind, businesses must offer persons with disabilities and their service animals access to any public locations, including vacation rentals.
However, according to research conducted by Guide Dogs in the UK, 75% of assistance dog owners have been denied access to a service – such as self-catering alternative lodging – due to their assistance dog.
We’d want to unpack some of the big talking points surrounding service animals and holiday rentals since this is an issue that often makes the headlines.
Service animals and the Americans with Disabilities Act
A “place of public accommodation” is defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act as lodging maintained by a private company, an inn, hotel, or motel, or a facility that offers short-term rentals (i.e., fewer than 30 days) with equivalent facilities to a hotel. Owners of holiday rentals may claim that their properties are excluded from the ADA statute in this way. This is because, in general, vacation rentals do not have walk-in or call-in rooms available, nor do they take bookings that do not guarantee a specific room until check-in.
In the United States, hosts are not permitted to inquire about assistance animals or impairments in any way they see fit. Hosts may only ask guests two questions:
- Is the dog a service dog necessary due to a disability?
- For what job or task has the dog been trained?
While each scenario should be evaluated on its own merits, vacation rentals potentially do not come under the ADA unless set up similarly to a short-stay hotel.
Do vacation rentals fall under the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair House Act (FHA) makes it unlawful to discriminate against people with disabilities regarding housing. The FHA, like the ADA, is designed to protect people with disabilities and is often mentioned in discussions about service animals and holiday rentals.
The FHA does not specifically address short-term rentals; however, it states that “transient” or similar transitory accommodation is not covered by the Act. With that in mind, it may be difficult for visitors to convince a court that they have the right to service or emotional support animals in a vacation rental.
What are the restrictions for service animals on listing sites and vacation rentals?
Although the Americans with Disabilities Act may not apply to you, many listing sites and OTAs have regulations and standards regarding service animals. If you’re not sure, it’s usually a good idea to verify the policies of the website you’re listing with.
Airbnb’s policy on service animals
Airbnb’s service animal policy recognizes that these canines serve an important role for their owners and is also part of its nondiscrimination policy. This implies that hosts must reasonably accommodate bookings when a service animal is a visiting group member. This covers listings with non-pet-friendly housing restrictions or regulations.
Airbnb recommends hosts provide this information in their property description if their house is entirely animal-free owing to allergies or other reasons.
Airbnb’s policy on emotional support animals
The whole Airbnb assistance animal policy applies to Airbnb’s emotional support animal policy. Both service animals (seeing-eye dogs) and emotional support animals are considered assistance animals. Emotional support animals are often used in medical treatment and/or therapy; however, unlike service animals, they do not fulfill a defined role.
According to Airbnb’s policy, emotional support animals must be treated the same as service animals. Whether the animal is classified as emotional support or service, hosts must follow the guideline unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Airbnb’s pet policy violation
Remember that the Airbnb pet policy is distinct from the Airbnb assistance animal policy. As a consequence, if the assistance animal policy is broken, the animal may be removed in the following circumstances:
- The animal is out of control, and the animal’s handler is failing to manage it effectively.
- The pet isn’t housebroken.
In certain situations, hosts may request that the animal be removed, but the visitor can choose to remain at the accommodation without the animal if they want.
Service animal policy at Vrbo
Vrbo’s service animal policy, like Airbnb’s, requires property owners and managers in the United States to accommodate any tourists who need the use of an assistance dog. This restriction is in effect regardless of the holiday rental’s standard house rules regarding animals.
Hosts who wish to list on this platform must follow their service animal policy. Property owners cannot require proof for a service animal, according to the Vrbo policy. Local regulations, HOA limitations, and breed requirements have no bearing on Vrbo’s service animal policy.
Emotional support animal policy at Vrbo
When it comes to the allowance of emotional support animals, Vrbo has a lot more grey space. Emotional support animals should be discussed between the host and the guest, according to Vrbo’s service animal policy page.
Although the Vrbo service animal policy does not specifically include emotional support animals, keep in mind that local laws may still oblige you to accommodate them.
Vrbo’s pet policy violation
Vrbo’s pet policy is unique from its service animal policy, like Airbnb’s. Even yet, there are repercussions for violating the service animal laws. If the animal is causing substantial damage to the property, the host might request it removed. Nonetheless, complaints and breaches of the Vrbo service animal policy will be examined case-by-case.
Vrbo states that violating their service animal policy might result in the property being temporarily or permanently delisted for hosts or visitors being barred from using the site.
Is it mandatory for holiday rentals to allow emotional support animals?
Emotional support animals in holiday rentals have become the subject of heated controversy. Some hosts are hesitant to accept visitors with emotional support animals because they are concerned about property damage or abuse.
Some tourists need an emotional support animal to enjoy their holiday. While emotional support animals aren’t explicitly trained to execute a single duty, they are medically supported and provide a valuable service to clients with disabilities or special needs. Remember that it’s all about the visitor experience at the end of the day.
Emotional support animals are not the same as service animals and are not protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Because the Disabilities Act does not cover Americans, hosts can reject accommodations based on this statute. Other regulations, such as the OTA policies described above, may apply, and you may be required to comply with hosting an emotional support animal.
It’s crucial to consider whether you should refuse to host an emotional support animal just because you have the legal right to do so. Keep in mind that any kind of visitor selection might have an impact on your vacation rental’s reputation and ratings.
Will service animals cause harm to my home?
Service animals are often well-trained, both in terms of their employment and in terms of being house-trained, and hence are unlikely to cause harm to your property. Accidents may happen to anybody staying at your holiday rental, of course. As a result, it’s a good idea to get vacation rental insurance and charge a security deposit to all guests.
As a result, hosts have the right to keep a part (or all) of the damage deposit as compensation for any property damage.
Is it legal for me to charge a fee for service animals?
The answer is a resounding nay. Many hosts are tempted to charge a pet fee, but service animals are not pets and should not be regarded as such. Most listing platforms, such as Airbnb, stipulate that hosts cannot charge visitors with assistance animals additional costs.
Service animals may be considered an “additional visitor” under certain technicalities and may be charged an extra guest fee depending on the listing site. Regardless, charging an additional guest charge for a service animal is a bad idea since it might result in a considerable reaction from visitors.
What services can I provide for clients who travel with guide dogs?
Take the following into account to make your vacation rental more accessible to visitors who use service animals:
- Choose décor that has intense color and tone contrast and appropriate lighting. Make sure that door frames contrast with neighboring walls, for example, so that a visitor with residual vision may see where the door is.
- Make sure any circulation pathways are clear of potential dangers like plants, furniture, or other things.
- Make audible alerts and systems available.
- Service animals need a designated area to relieve themselves. You should be able to offer an enclosed grass or concrete “spending area” outdoors where the service animal cannot escape and which is cleaned regularly by the guide dog owner, another visitor, or a cleaning agency.
- Provide food and water bowls and any other necessary materials.
Where do I stand on service animals if my family member has serious pet allergies?
Many vacation rental owners may utilize their property for their holidays for a few weeks each year. Consequently, admitting service animals may risk visiting family members with serious animal sensitivities. According to the current study, between 10% and 20% of the global population is allergic to common household pets like dogs and cats. Any allergy sufferer knows that transitioning home from pet-friendly to pet-free may be lengthy since dander can linger long after dogs have left.
Due to severe allergies, it’s essential to clarify in your house rules and listing description that your home is completely an animal-free zone. Even platforms like Airbnb recognize that pet allergies may pose a health and safety risk to certain people, and they will not force you to host the visitors if they create major health problems.
The moral of the story is that service animals are visitors, not pets.
According to the legislation, it is unlawful for property owners to discriminate against persons with disabilities while renting their premises. With the surge in popularity of platforms like Airbnb for finding and booking short-term rental apartments, there has been an increase in the number of bad experiences reported by disabled tourists.
Every vacation rental owner and property manager owes service animals to offer appropriate accommodations. Assistance dogs are not pets but mobility aids that have undergone significant training to function and support their owners.