Busting Myths About Service Animals and Vacation Rentals

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?

  1. 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?

    1. It says very clearly that you can state IN THE LISTING that NO ANIMALS can be accepted due to severe animal allergies.
      You obviously have never met anyone who required the use of a service animal or you would understand the need for them. They are NOT PETS, they are medical devices. No one is ‘forcing you’ to do anything. If you don’t want to rent to disabled people who require the use of a service animal, just find a place to list that allows for that sort of listing. If you or your family is so horribly allergic to animals then maybe you shouldn’t rent at all because Sally could be over at Mary’s house petting her cat prior to staying at your place and thusly give it a 3rd degree animal contact. Everyone matters. You, the hotel owner, the disabled person who wants to rent something other than a hotel room with ‘certain rooms just for service animals’. Jeesh – just move them all to the back of the bus so you can feel better already. Please let me know what your listings are so I can avoid them (and everyone I know can too).
      I work with those who rely on service animals in order to live.

      1. I agree with Jen, our country is losing it’s mind and going to far. We have a vacation rental and prefer no pets, but if it’s truly a service animal then we are OK with that. The problem is it’s almost impossible to determine if the animal is a pet or a service animal, so people just lie and you are forced to accommodate their pets. There are a plenty of websites and organizations that will help people try to portray their pet as a “Service Animal”—although they really are not, nor meet the legal requirements—through online or mail-in “certifications”. Please know that currently there is not any type of legally recognized organization for registering service animals;
        Two points: It should be easy to determine if it is truly a service animal. Under today’s laws you can only ask two questions in situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal,
        (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? You are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog. That is ridiculous!!!!! Jen is correct, we are forgetting about the majority to accommodate a few when we can accommodate both. The left is taking over the country and running it into the ground. Don’t even get me started on emotional support animals, what a joke that makes it possible for anyone to take their PETS anywhere regardless of the harm it will do to the population at large. Just make it harder to lie about these animals so those with true needs can be accommodated without accommodating those who don’t care to lie. The majority in America need to wake up and vote all incumbents out of office every time until they do what is right. Today there is no one that should get a second term with the job that is being done. VRBO rules say people don’t even need to tell you if they are bringing their “service dog” to your vacation rental. Without cameras you won’t know until you find their PET tore your house all to hell. I understand that true service dogs are exceptionally trained and will leave your house as found except for dander, again the issue is there is no way to tell the difference between a pet and a necessary tool (service dog). Ask yourself why is this, and then vote accordingly.

      2. Unfortunately Cynthia, our medical professionals have diluted the meaning of service animals so that now anyone that owns a dog can claim they are medically necessary. It’s really too bad, because those that actually need them like my niece that is type 1 diabetic, gets lumped in with dishonest people that lie so they can bring their dog anywhere. There needs to be documentation and standards so that those with real issues are not treated badly.

        1. I used to (out of courtesy) let people know we were accompanied by my daughter’s service animal – I also (without being asked provide them with the tasks he performs and even the org that trained him and an email for questions from the org.

          I don’t anymore because rental owners are just as dishonest as the fake service dog owners your site – they lie about allergies as SO dangerous that if one dog hair is left the family member will have to go to intensive care.

          What I’ve found is most people are not even close to being reasonable
          I sure wish my daughter could take medication and erase her seizures or mobility issues – but she can’t and her dog makes all the difference for her well-being. So home owners have changed my behavior from accommodation and courtesy to just going by what the ADA laws says I need to do – which is no notification and no apolicy that my daughter has specific medical equipment she needs.

      3. As an owner of a cabin that uses VRBO for renting out our place and I live 1100 miles from the cabin, how can I be sure that someone claiming to have a service animal is not just bringing the family pet? I mean, it would be obvious if I had a rental office near the cabin and required the people to stop by to get the key, etc., I could see with my own eyes the animal is needed. I don’t have that luxury from 1100 miles away. Ideas?

      4. This just happened to me. Possible tenant showed up with a “doctors note” stating she has an ESA cat. At the the time of the lease she never mentioned a cat. Even though I had NO PETS. People like this ruin it for the rest of the good people. I am pretty certain “service” animals are well more behaved. ESA owners have taken it too far. And NO I will not take your idiotic advice and get out off the business to suit these nut jobs! Move on to the back of the bus!

    2. It’s not just the Owners of the rental but other guests too. I own a vacation home management company and if I have a non-pet home that is full half the year with different guests what responsibility do I face if someone goes in their with an animal, regardless of how well behaved they are, and the next guest has a reaction based on the previous pet? Even with professional cleaning it is nigh impossible to get ALL of the dog hair/cat dander/what have you from the unit between guests and even a mild reaction by the next guest could be enough to ruin their vacation and we get blamed for it/have to issue refunds/etc to the point where tbh it would have been better just not to rent the unit at all to either party.

      80% of my cottages are pet friendly. Pick one of those please. Otherwise the obligation to cater to a service animal is going to clash with the obligation to provide your other guests with a non-pet environment and the vacation provider is stuck in the middle.

      That being said, I have very rarely encountered this situation and am grateful that it is not a more frequent issue. Very happy to accommodate service animals in pet friendly rooms but the nice thing about vacation cottages is that the guest gets to pick exactly which cottage they want and should responsibly select pet friendly cottages to avoid this issue. Seems to be a damned if you do and damned if you don’t scenario for the rental providers otherwise.

  2. 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. 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. 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.

  5. I’ve had a vacation rental home for 6 years, owned the vacation home for 15 years. I’ve NEVER had a dog in my home until this rental, currently at my home. A company rented the house for 3 guys, for 6 month period. One of the guys brought his wife and her “service animal” for the wkend, with not so much as a word, or a question, just brought them in! Vacation rental homes are NOT your typical hotel, with high turnovers. I’ve prided myself on keeping a “pet free home” for guests with allergies. And now, low and behold, one visitor has ruined it! I’ve given them notice that because she’s a visitor and not on the lease, this is the ONLY time this will be allowed…. If people wanna bring their animals, they should be COURTEOUS ENOUGH TO ASK FIRST, and go to an establishment that accepts them! Not FORCE IT down our throats!

  6. The ESA is totally out of legal control. If you Google “Colorado Emotional Support Animal” you will find dozens of pages with low lifers advertising their services. For $150 anyone can get a ESA certificate for their dog, cat or pet snake.. Many people do not want to board their animals and want to take them on a vacation and abuse the Fair Housing Law. They do not give a hoot about the damage the animal can do or if the owners are allergic to dogs. So many of these articles are written by people who own fluffy and want to take their pet with them. At least the airlines are not allowing cats, kangeroos and the like. That said, a miniature horse is allowed. Can you imagine the damage a horses hoof would do to wood floors?

  7. As a vacation rental owner of a condo, I think it stinks that we have to accept a guest with any type of service animal. I understand their need; however, service animals shed and vomit just like any other dog which is something that cannot be trained out of them. I don’t even bring my own dog (which is a non-shedding breed) to our condo because of us renting to other people. We rent through VRBO which apparently says we must accept the animal which I didn’t know about and totally oppose. It is our home that we are opening up to guests and we should have a right to say the animal cannot come. It also stinks the owner of a pet doesn’t have to show documentation. There are plenty of properties that allow pets and they should stick with them. I also know there are plenty of people who claim their pet is emotional support because I get pop ups all the time saying if I pay this company, they will certify my dog as an emotional support animal. I am vehemently against us having to accept them.

  8. The ESA is definitely out of control. I am a landlord. EVERYONE lately has an ESA. The latest had 2 cats. If you need an animal for emotional support, then get one. You don’t need a doctor’s note to get a pet. You don’t need permission from anyone. And why would you need 2 of them? The only reason for the doctor’s note is to force a landlord to take the pet/pets and, additionally, to avoid pet fees and deposits. Literally anyone can get this certification.

    Medical conditions cost money and limit you. Many of us have them. People have type 1 diabetes. No one is giving them free medication or special rights. There are many activities where they cannot participate because they do not have appropriate care for them. People with wheelchairs have to pay to install a ramp if they rent a property and then put it back to the original condition when they leave. People in wheelchairs cannot participate in many events. There are many physical and emotional issues which prohibit people from doing what they want and limiting their choices. Why would society put this one type of issue in a special category that takes away the rights of others? And how is it so many renters now have this certification?

    People that truly need service animals for special conditions do happen. Service animals go through special training and usually are essential for life and death needs. But why all of a sudden do 50% of all renters have ESA’s, which is a completely different category. Why are pet fees waived for them? And why can’t they rent from people that don’t mind renting to people with animals? Instead they are forcing those who do not want pets in their place to have to accept them and also not allow them to charge fees and deposits to cover damages that frequently occur with pets. It is truly bewildering and a rule that has allowed people to abuse the system and the rights of others.

  9. I am totally sick of people saying they need these animals but they’ll be in a crate in your condo when we’re gone! If they’re okay left in the condo then you obviously don’t need them! Leave your pets at home or pay to kennel them! Better yet don’t get a pet or have a child because obviously you can’t handle yourself or your pet and your child is as bad as you!

  10. Thanks for a great post! It was interesting to read about AirBnb and HomeAway policies in terms of permitting service or ESA. I have heard that under certain conditions, allowing a dog of a particular breed may also be considered unreasonable, such as if the landlord’s insurance provider would drop the landlord’s coverage based on the service dog’s breed. I’ve found this information in this post https://certifymypet.com/blog/documentation-landlord-can-ask-for-service-dog/ that can be a good addition to what you have already said.

  11. Two things.. It is a Service animal, not a pet. Second, the home was being rented with a six month lease to these guys so therefore, it was their home and allowed to have anyone over if they choose too. This is something that some landlords dont seem to understand. Its not legal to refuse a true SA and it’s not legal for a landlord to tell someone that they cant have their friends ect over in their own home. When someone rents a place for that amount of time, the place is their home, not the landlords. Some landlords will put a $5.00 a night charge in the contract for any guests they may have over and if they agree to that then you make extra money but it still doesn’t make it legal.

  12. I do understand that many people are dependent on their service animals. But the fact is that allergies and asthma often occur together. The same substances that trigger your hay fever symptoms, such as pollen, dust mites and pet dander, may also cause asthma signs and symptoms. In some people, skin or food allergies can cause asthma symptoms. This is called allergic asthma or allergy-induced asthma.

    Asthma can come on very fast and it is a serious condition that can make you very sick and even kill you if you do not have the right medication.

    So it would be nice if people can respect each other and try to understand each situation.

  13. Why don’t you quit depending on a private company that is entitled to its own policies? Advertise it yourself or start your own site and quit whining.

  14. What about the law protecting follow on guests who also have pet allergies? Potential renters with pet allergies would probably assume a no pet policy means they would be in an animal free unit, buth thanks to this bullshit ADA law, they would have to suffer if coming behind a service animal. The ADA has tried (in vain) to paint an service animal as something besides an animal – but it is STILL an animal; just ask the 20% of people who suffer pet allergies. My hope is that this legal pendulum will swing back to something that considers the needs of the hones-to-God handicapped AND the people who have allergies. Maybe exempt rentals that cannot provide a sectioned off unit that is just for animals (service animals and pets). And allow those that can provide sectioned off quarters to do so. That seems the fairset compromise.

    1. The ADA law isn’t bullshit. It outlines what institutions must accept service animals and which ones don’t have to accept. It also outlines that emotional support animals have no rights. So in this case the ADA says that ESA don’t have public clearance. ESA are only allowed in places where pets are welcome such as Home Depot and some restaurants that have outdoor seating. So the ADA law is very clear in this case. The problem is that people with ESA take advantage of people and they know that the employee or whoever is too afraid to ask them to leave even if it is an ESA because they don’t want to get into trouble or get fired. I think institutions should stick up for themselves and if they see an ESA just ask them to leave because they don’t have the same rights as a true service animal.

  15. I would happily rent to a guest with a trained certified service animal, even though this would be very costly to remove the hair, poop and dander from my property. ESA’s are not trained. It is at best proof someone has a real prescription for an ESA but there is no certification for the actual animal. The DOT has recently stopped allowing ESA’s on flights because they are too often untrained and pee and bite on other passengers. I feel truly sorry for the people who have certified service animals but I always lump them in with the online certificate ESAs because Airbnb and VRBO make me and I am terrified to host an untrained animal. I am not allowed to distinguish between the two and we’ve had awful issues. They are separate situations and should be treated as such. The medical and disability advocates should make a real effort to distinguish certified service animals from ESA’s. If Airbnb and VRBO really cared about disability equality, they would also distinguish between certified trained service animals and the rest. If I am allowed to not allow people to smoke medical marijuana (for anxiety) in my property, I should be allowed to not allow their untrained animal (for their anxiety) in my home as both are prescriptions easily obtained online and are disruptive to the home. If the ESA community really wanted to help people with emotional issues, they would have a system that rigorously trained dogs to be well behaved and perform a service. Then issue the animals through a reputable medical program to those in need. Right now they are just making life really hard for those with actual service animals and allowing too many entitled people to take their pets to places they otherwise wouldn’t be allowed.

  16. I am a parent of two children who each have their own service dog for medic alert purposes and other necessary medical needs. We usually only use VRBO or Airbnb when we travel due to having a yard for our service dogs. Both are hypoallergenic and have excellent training. I would have no issue renting a home that states no pets because I know there would be no risk to any of the owner’s list of concerns they have stated. However, we don’t. We choose a pet-friendly place every time to try to respect the requests of the owner. Yes, they are service dogs and not pets. Yes, they are medically necessary and legally allowed to be there. Yes, we have to settle sometimes and not get the place with the amenities we would love to enjoy on our vacation. We still choose to do it. The worst part is by staying in a pet-friendly place, we do have to tolerate all the lazy pet owners who allow their dogs to urinate in the home or do not brush them regularly outside to prevent an excessive amount of shedding in the home. It is disgusting and I hate renting pet-friendly homes, but we do if one is available. I do understand the owner’s frustration at the situation but you agree to this when you list your rental on these sites. If you disagree with it, list it elsewhere. No matter any law, there will always be dishonest people who take advantage of the laws and shed a bad light, and ruin it for those who truly need it. I have many situations for accommodations that have allowed us to travel with our son who is on the autism spectrum, but now, thanks to many fake autism claims, a lot of those accommodations have been discontinued and so our ability to travel and enjoy some activities have been taken away. While we hate this has happened, it is life and we stand up and make a difference where we can to protect our family’s needs. I am sorry for the owners who have to experience the negative side of these laws. It is very frustrating. Unless the laws change, which I don’t see happening any time soon, you will either have to accept it or remove your listing.

    1. Thanks, I appreciate that! I have severely sensitive dog and cat allergies and couldn’t be anywhere a service dog has stayed.
      And I often wonder, seeing the invasion of ESA dogs and service dogs for anything and everything, why those people don’t live in a place that DOES allow pets … There are so many pet-friendly places around.

  17. I have been on both sides of this fence. I did Airbnb hosting for years both with a private house and also with condominiums. For the condominiums renters of any kind we needed to provide documentation of service animals. We lost many renters because of a room rental where they had a service dog that would jump on people. Obviously not a real service dog (also the supposed handler left for work over 8 hours a day without the supposed service dog.) I have a true service dog that I cannot have more than a few feet from me at all times. I have been denied rentals with supposed allergies as the excuse. I say supposed allergies because as has been mentioned by others some will flat out lie about allergies. I always email in advance because I want to be a welcome guest rather than someone who feels unwelcome in a place I’m paying good money for. I purposely have a hypoallergenic dog due to my own hosting and wanting to ensure guests with allergies would not be affected that rented in my own home. I find it interesting when I state the dog is a hypoallergenic breed we’ll still get denied with allergies as the reason. As far as some who say we should stick to properties that are pet friendly I tend to steer clear of those who are pet friendly if it is not a whole home rental. My service dog has been attacked by someone’s pet before and since he is a very well trained dog in order to be a true service dog he does not engage in protecting himself from someone’s pet like another pet likely would. I have also had children used as a reason why my service dog would not be welcome. As far as the angry person saying why should I have to have a dog and extra cleaning etc due to a pet….nobody is forcing you to choose to rent out your place via short term. If you have issues with any type of guest be it a race, religion, or disability needs you’re in the wrong line of work doing rentals. If you change your mindset a bit you can find that it’s not only a great living but also gives you the opportunity to learn so much from all cultures and walks of life. As with any job that has interaction with other people you will always get a few rotten eggs that will lie or cause problems if you’re at it long enough and yes, some will cost you more than they paid. However, most people are good people and an asset.

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