Traveling and finding adequate accommodations can give anyone a headache. After all, you need to schedule your trip, make the necessary arrangements with your family, friends, and employer, and book your flights and/or accommodations. For many people, this can be an extremely stressful process.
Owning an emotional support animal or service animal can add an extra layer of stress to your trip. This is because many people are not aware of the laws regarding where you can take your animal, as well as the differences between ESAs and service animals. In the following sections, we will discuss how both types of animals are regulated, and specifically how these regulations apply to the popular accommodation service, Airbnb.
Emotional Support Animal vs. Service Animal
It is important to note the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal. Service animals (typically dogs) have been trained to perform specific tasks that a person is incapable of performing on their own. For this reason, service animals are allowed in public spaces where other animals (possibly including emotional support animals) may not be allowed to go.
Alternatively, emotional support animals are not trained in specific tasks, nor are there as many limitations on the types of animals that qualify; dogs, cats, birds, and even miniature horses can qualify as emotional support animals. In the United States, the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carriers Access Act both cover the legal definitions of emotional support animals. These laws help protect emotional support animals and their owners when attempting to rent a living space or travel by air.
What is Airbnb?
Airbnb is a travel accommodation marketplace that allows people to rent out a room, apartment, house, or other forms of living space for a set period of time. Much like a regular hotel, you can use the Airbnb app or website to find accommodation in a given location and reserve it with the property owner. The listing will provide you with information about the host (property owner), as well as pictures of the property and information related to amenities. Once you have booked your Airbnb, you can communicate directly with the host to ask questions and organize the details of your stay.
This app has become extremely popular, as it allows property owners to develop a new stream of income, and allows travelers to find accommodations that cater to their specific needs and desires. Additionally, Airbnb is often less expensive than traditional hotels.
Does Airbnb Allow ESAs and Service Animals?
Airbnb is committed to making its service inclusive and accessible to all of its customers. They set clear expectations in their nondiscrimination policy for hosts regarding people with disabilities, including the use of service animals. According to Airbnb, they consider a service animal to be a dog that has been trained to perform the needed tasks for a person with a “physical, psychiatric, intellectual or mental disability.”
Although they specifically define service animals to be dogs, Airbnb includes other types of animals as emotional support animals under their assistance program, including therapy animals and comfort animals. Hosts are required to accept all assistance animals unless they pose a real threat to public safety or health.
Are Guests Required to Disclose that They Have a Service Animal?
To maintain a fair and inclusive process for all Airbnb customers, guests are not required to disclose that they have a service animal when booking a vacation spot, but they do think it’s a courteous gesture to mention it to the host beforehand. Additionally, guests do not need to provide documentation or certification of their service animal. If a guest is turned down by a host because of a service animal, Airbnb asks that the guest file a report.
Airbnb’s policy also provides guidance and support for hosts who get requests from service animal owners. Hosts are allowed to ask a guest to remove a service animal if the animal is either not housebroken or if the handler cannot adequately control it. If either of these situations occurs, guests must still be offered to stay on the premises without the animal if they choose. Some properties may not have adequate accessibility features or be able to accommodate any type of service animals. Hosts should let guests know of any potential accessibility issues beforehand so guests can make the best decision for themselves.
Airbnb vs. Traditional Hotels
Airbnb differs from traditional hotels in many ways. With Airbnb, you are dealing with an individual property owner, rather than a hotel manager or representative. However, when it comes to service animals, all hotels and similar accommodations must abide by the regulations set out in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). So, traditional hotels cannot discriminate against you for having a service animal, and neither can Airbnb.
However, the policies regarding emotional support animals are much less clear. ESAs are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), so hotels generally do not allow them on the premises. That said, some hotels do allow pets, including emotional support animals, but you will need to inform the hotel ahead of time to clarify their animal policies. Airbnb, on the other hand, does allow ESAs in its accommodations, but the same rules that apply for service animals apply for ESAs as well. If an Airbnb host determines that the animal is a threat or poses a potential health problem, they can deny your request.
It is also important to note that, while private property owners can deny access to anyone, including service animals, landlords cannot. If you have a service animal and are attempting to rent accommodations for a short or long-term stay, the landlord cannot discriminate against you simply because you have a service animal. So, while each Airbnb dwelling is technically private property, the owner also technically functions as a landlord and must agree to Airbnb’s nondiscrimination policy regarding service animals.
Airbnb’s Nondiscrimination Policy
The Airbnb Nondiscrimination Policy provides clear guidelines for both hosts and guests. Airbnb strives to make their community feel inclusive, ensuring that its policies allow access to everyone and make both hosts and guests feel respected. However, the success of this community is dependent upon honest and transparent communication between hosts and their respective guests. Open discussion about service animals, the needs of the renter, and accessibility features can limit the number of surprises for all parties involved.
Airbnb wants everyone to travel with the comforts of home, and service animals can be an integral part of that. They make the lives of persons with disabilities safer, and they give their owners the ability to travel and explore the world more freely. To ensure transparency and foster a healthy business community, Airbnb’s nondiscrimination policy focuses on two integral factors: Inclusion and Respect. According to Airbnb’s website, it defines these terms in the following ways:
- Inclusion – “We welcome guests of all backgrounds with authentic hospitality and open minds. Joining Airbnb, as a host or guest, means becoming part of a community of inclusion. Bias, prejudice, racism, and hatred have no place on our platform or in our community. While hosts are required to follow all applicable laws that prohibit discrimination based on such factors as race, religion, national origin, and others listed below, we commit to do more than comply with the minimum requirements established by law.”
- Respect – “We are respectful of each other in our interactions and encounters. Airbnb appreciates that local laws and cultural norms vary around the world and expects hosts and guests to abide by local laws, and to engage with each other respectfully, even when views may not reflect their beliefs or upbringing. Airbnb’s members bring to our community an incredible diversity of background experiences, beliefs, and customs. By connecting people from different backgrounds, Airbnb fosters greater understanding and appreciation for the common characteristics shared by all human beings and undermines prejudice rooted in misconception, misinformation, or misunderstanding.”
Acquiring an ESA or Service Animal
While the laws regulating ESAs and service animals differ, they are both vitally important assets for many people. If you suffer from a physical or psychological disability that makes it difficult to perform daily tasks or live your life comfortably, you may need the help of a service animal. Similarly, if you suffer from emotional trauma or psychological disability that qualifies you for an emotional support animal, it can be a great way to meet your therapeutic needs and give you a sense of companionship.
In either case, the experts at usserviceanimals.org are here to help. Whether you have questions about legal definitions or would like to start the application process for an ESA or service animal, feel free to contact us today!