According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is a dog that has been “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability”. With this in mind, entities must allow people with disabilities and their service animals to enter any areas where members of the public can go – which may include vacation rentals.

Research by Guide Dogs in the UK, however, found that 75% of assistance dog owners had been refused access to a service – such as self-catering alternative accommodation – because of their assistance dog.

As a topic that is making news headlines frequently, we want to unpick some of the major talking points about service animals and vacation rentals.

ADA and service animals

Under the ADA, a “place of public accommodation” is lodging operated by a private entity that is an inn, hotel or motel, or a facility that provides short-term rentals (i.e. less than 30 days) and boasts similar amenities to a hotel. In that sense, vacation rental owners may argue that their properties are exempt from the ADA law. This is because. in general, vacation rentals neither have rooms available on a walk-in or call-in basis, nor do they accept reservations without guaranteeing a particular room until check-in.

While each situation should be regarded individually, unless the vacation rental is set up similar to a short-stay hotel, it arguably does not fall under the ADA.

What are the rules regarding service animals and vacation rentals on listing sites?

Although the ADA may not apply in your case, many listing sites and OTAs do have their own rules and requirements about service animals. It’s always a good idea to check the policy of the website you are listing with if you are not sure.

Airbnb service animal policy

For Airbnb, assistance animals take into account both service animals (i.e. seeing eye dogs) and emotional support animals. Emotional support animals generally form part of medical treatment and/or therapy but do not perform a specific task in the way service animals do.

Airbnb’s service animal policy acknowledges that these dogs serve an essential purpose for their owner and additionally, it forms part of their non-discrimination policy. This means that it is a requirement for hosts to reasonably accommodate reservations where a service animal may be a member of the visiting party. This includes listings whose house rules or policies are not pet-friendly.

HomeAway VRBO service animal policy

Similarly, as with Airbnb, the HomeAway and VRBO service animal policy requires property owners and managers in the US to accommodate any travelers who require the use of an assistance dog. This is a policy that applies regardless of the vacation rental’s normal house rules concerning animals.

The HomeAway policy states that property owners cannot request documentation for a service animal. They can only ask the following questions: whether the service dog is required because of a disability, and what work the dog has been trained to carry out.

Will service animals damage my property?

On the whole, service animals are highly trained – both to perform their work and in terms of being house-trained – and therefore, it is very unlikely they would cause damage to your property. Of course, accidents can happen with any guests at your vacation rental. Consequently, it’s wise to have vacation rental insurance in place and to charge all travelers a security deposit.

In this way, hosts have the right to retain a portion (or all) of the damage deposit to compensate for any damage caused to the property.

What amenities can I offer to guests with guide dogs?

To make your vacation rental more accessible to guests who require service animals, you can take the following into consideration:

  • Opt for décor with good color and tonal contrast and lighting. For example, make sure that door frames contrast with nearby walls, so a guest who has residual vision can make out where the door is.
  • Ensure any circulation routes are free of hazards such as plants, furniture or other objects.
  • Provide audible alarms and systems.
  • Service animals require space to relieve themselves. Ideally, you will be able to provide an enclosed grass or concrete “spending area” outside, from which the service animal cannot escape and which should be cleaned regularly either by the guide dog owner, another guest or a cleaning service.

A family member has severe pet allergies – where do I stand with service animals?

Many vacation rental owners will use their property a couple of weeks per year for their own vacations. As a result, accepting service animals can pose a threat to visiting family members who suffer from severe animal allergies. According to recent research, between 10 and 20% of the population worldwide are allergic to household pets such as dogs and cats. Any allergy-sufferer will know, it’s a long process to transform a property from pet-friendly to pet-free as dander can remain long after pets depart.

It’s best to make it explicitly clear in your house rules and listing description that your property is strictly an animal-free zone due to severe allergies. Even sites such as Airbnb understand that pet allergies can be a health and safety hazard for some, and they will not require you to host the guests if it will cause serious health issues.

The takeaway: service animals are guests, not pets

In the eyes of the law, it is illegal for property owners to discriminate against people with disabilities when renting their properties. With the rise in popularity of sites such as Airbnb to find and book short-term rental properties, there has also come an increase in the negative experiences documented by travelers with disabilities.

Each vacation rental owner and property manager has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate service animals. Assistance dogs are not simply pets, but rather mobility aids who receive extensive training so they can work and provide assistance to their owners.

What do you think about this article?

Busting Myths About Service Animals and Vacation Rentals
3.2 (64.14%) 29 votes
(4) Comments
  1. Jen Reply

    What about the homeowner who has children with severe allergies to dogs? Why doesn’t the law protect them? Also by forcing homeowners to allow a dog could impact their market. There are those that won’t rent a place if a dog was present. Only a deep cleaning which costs money would allow you to say it is a pet free home yet we can’t charge a “pet fee”. This law is a one-way law and needs fixing. As a homeowner I should be allowed to say no. There are hotels/motels that can accommodate better by having certain rooms available for service animals while keeping their other rooms pet free for everyone else yet the law again says they can’t do that. The law is forgetting about “everyone else”. Why don’t they matter as well?

  2. KM Reply

    Agree with the above comment. As a homeowner, what protections do we have against travellers who bring “emotional support” pets (not service animals)that have no specialized training but are simply pets they are too cheap to board or make other arrangements for. Ploys to avoid pet damage deposits and cleaning fees abound. What about rights of those with severe allergies?

  3. Allison Hayes Reply

    Also, this allows anyone to simp,y tell you they have a service dog since no documentation can be required. If this is the law, virtually anyone can say they have a service dog with no questions asked.

  4. Bailey Jones Reply

    I have a service dog and I really do understand your situation. No one is more frustrated than I am regarding the abuse and false representation of dogs that are clearly not service dogs. And I cannot speak for anyone else but myself, but I do my very best to try to find pet friendly places to rent while we are on vacation. The only time it was Ever an issue for me was when my parents rented a vacation cabin as a surprise for myself and my children and my siblings and their families. My parents are so used to my service dog they did not even consider her when they paid for the rental home. Fortunately the home owner with Vrbo Graciously allowed me and my family to stay there with my service dog. I also have no problem explaining exactly what my medical issue are and what my service dog does to alert me. My service dog saved my life on numerous occasions by alerting me when my blood pressure was too high or too low. I only have one kidney, and even though I am six medications I take multiple times a day my BP is uncontrollable, and I am very young. I have had strokes, but after my service dog thankfully she alerted me in time so I could take my emergency medication and avoid an additional stroke. She even wakes me up and alerts me. Afterwards, she even emailed me that she could not even tell the dog had been in her home. I even pick up after her outside when she uses the restroom. I understand that federal law does not demand I disclose my information, but I have no issue in doing so to ensure people she really is a service dog. I greatly resent those people who try to pass off their pet as a service animal because it harms those who depend on them, even those who’s life depends on the amazing skill of their service dog. And I love my service dog, but I can guarantee you I would rather not have to need a service dog around me 24/7. I don’t have a good answer for you guys that do you rent your home is out and so others can enjoy a wonderful vacation. All I can say is I am thankful for those that do, and as in scenario I described I would have missed out on getting to see my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews who I do not get to see very often. With the real service dog their whole purpose in life is to provide the service they have been trained for to protect their person. A service dog would never destroy any property, never use the restroom in the house, (a service dog will actually use the restroom on command), and will only bark if they trained to do so to alert their person. And I apologize the struggles that you go through, he and I choose to always have my dog in her vest and have no problem answering any questions one may have, because I want to make people aware that a true service dog will never leave a trace that they have been there in your homes. Again I cannot speak for everyone, but the majority of people I know that depend on their service dog have no problem and will tell someone anything they would like to know about the amazing skills their dog is trained for, and how their dog allows them to live as normal of a life as possible.

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