Vacation traveling can give anyone a headache. Not only do you need to schedule your trip and make arrangements with family, friends, and your employer, but there’s also flights and lodging to take care of. For many people, this can be an extremely stressful process.
Owning an emotional support animal (ESA) or service animal (SA) can add an extra layer of stress to your trip, especially when it comes to accommodation, transportation, etc. Many people are not aware of the laws regarding where they can take their animal and what the differences are between ESAs and SAs.
This article discusses how emotional support animals and service animals are regulated and how these regulations apply to the popular travel accommodation service, Airbnb.
Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Animals
Before reviewing Airbnb’s policies, it is important to cover the differences between a service animal (SA) and an emotional support animal (ESA).
Service animals (typically dogs) are trained to perform specific tasks that a person is incapable of performing on their own, due to physical or mental impairments. For this reason, service animals are allowed in public spaces where other animals (including emotional support animals) are not.
Some of the tasks that a service animal might perform include:
- Assisting individuals who are blind or have vision problems
- Assisting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing
- Aiding a person before and during a seizure
- Interrupting or redirecting a panic attack
- Protecting a handler from others by blocking or staying close to them
- Providing physical support for people with balance and stability issues
- Alerting or signaling the presence of allergens
- Fetching help if a handler falls or passes out
- Retrieving items like medication or a phone
- Assisting handlers with psychiatric or neurological disabilities by interrupting or preventing destructive behaviors
Emotional Support Animals
Alternatively, emotional support animals are not trained to perform specific tasks; their primary role is to provide comfort. There are also less limitations on the types of animals that qualify: dogs, cats, birds, and even miniature horses are eligible as emotional support animals.
Rights Afforded to SAs and ESAs
Service animals are afforded more rights than emotional support animals. For the most part, state laws are similar, with only a few minor variations. It is important to check the laws in your state so that you can obtain correct and up-to-date information.
Generally, legal protections are granted to service animals if a person has a certified disability. Under the American Disabilities Act (ADA), a person with a disability is defined as having a physical or mental impairment that “substantially limits one or more major life activities”.
Service animals are protected under the ADA and have the right to:
- Fair and equal housing
- Access to public transportation (including buses, trains, taxis, airplanes, etc.)
- Access to places of employment
- Access to public places (such as restaurants, shops, places of entertainment, libraries, etc.)
Emotional support animals, on the other hand, only have access to fair and equal housing: these laws ensure that ESAs and their owners can rent a living space. However, ESAs are not allowed on public transportation, in places of employment, or most public areas unless given permission by the service provider.
What is Airbnb?
Airbnb is a travel accommodation marketplace that allows people to rent out a room, apartment, house, or other living space for a set period. 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.
Each listing provides information about the host (property owner) and the accommodation amenities; it also includes pictures of the property. Once you have booked with Airbnb, you can communicate directly with the host to ask questions and organize the details of your stay.
The Airbnb app has become extremely popular; it allows property owners to develop a new stream of income and helps travelers find accommodation that caters to their specific needs and desires. Additionally, Airbnb is often less expensive than traditional hotels.
Does Airbnb Allow ESAs and Service Animals?
Previously, Airbnb allowed ESAs in all of its properties, but that policy has since changed, unfortunately. Unless you’re in certain states or jurisdictions, like New York or California, you can now be charged a pet fee to bring your ESA to an Airbnb. An Airbnb host is also allowed to outright refuse to allow you to bring your ESA to their property.
If you have an ESA, you can still ask an individual host if it’s okay to bring them to their property without a fee. But it’s important to remember that it is no longer a company-wide policy to accept ESAs, and so your host is not obligated to accept them either, unless the local laws override Airbnb’s guidelines.
Keep in mind, though, that they still accept service dogs. As long as your ESA is a dog, you can consider training them to be a psychiatric service dog (PSD), so that you can bring them to most public spaces – including Airbnbs. If you’d like to find out more about training your pup to be a PSD, you can reach out to us here.
Airbnb’s Non-discrimination Policy
Airbnb’s non-discrimination policy provides clear guidelines for both hosts and guests. The company strives to make its community feel inclusive, ensuring its policies allow access to everyone, where all parties feel respected.
However, the success of this community is dependent upon honest and transparent communication between both hosts and guests. Open discussion about ESAs and SAs, 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 non-discrimination policy focuses on two integral factors: Inclusion and Respect. According to Airbnb’s website, it defines these terms in the following ways:
“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.”
“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.”
Airbnb vs. Traditional Hotels
Airbnb differs from traditional hotels in many ways. For example, with Airbnb, you deal with an individual property owner rather than a hotel manager or representative. However, when it comes to SAs, 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 must inform them ahead of time to clarify their animal policies. Likewise, some Airbnbs allow pets (including ESAs). And some individual Airbnb hosts who do not allow pets may make an exception for your ESA – but they are not required to.
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 accommodation for a short- or long-term stay, the landlord cannot discriminate against you simply because you have an SA.
So, while each Airbnb dwelling is technically private property, the owner also technically functions as a landlord and must agree to Airbnb’s non-discrimination policy regarding service animals.
Does Airbnb treat emotional support animals the same as service animals?
No, Airbnb does not treat emotional support animals as service animals. Airbnb must allow service animals in all of their properties, regardless of the individual property’s pet policies, and you cannot be charged a pet fee for staying with them.
However, ESAs are not required to be accepted by all Airbnb hosts, except in specific states with laws that override their policy, i.e., California and New York. While guests aren’t required to notify the property owners about their service animals, open communication between both parties is encouraged.
Do I need to show documentation to prove my SA is valid?
In adherence to Airbnb’s nondiscrimination policies, guests are not required to disclose any paperwork or documentation for their animal when booking a property. However, property hosts are allowed to ask questions like the ones below:
- Whether the animal is required due to a disability
- What work or tasks the animal performs to help with that disability
Aside from these questions, Airbnb hosts in the US are not permitted to ask for anything else such as certifications, proof of training, etc. For guests traveling outside the US, however, the policies might be different, so it’s worth checking the country’s animal laws first.
Also, while documentation isn’t required, hosts prefer that the guest discloses that an animal will be accompanying them. Communication about the animal is important because some properties might not be well suited to animals. In these cases, hosts can let the guests know about potential accessibility issues, etc., before the booking is confirmed.
Can an Airbnb host request the removal of my SA or ESA?
Airbnb hosts are not allowed to refuse a service animal entry or remove them from the accommodation unless it poses a threat to other residents and/or is causing damage to the property. While most service animals are well-trained, a host can request a guest to remove an animal if:
- The animal is not housebroken
- The animal is causing property damage
- The animal is out of control, and the handler doesn’t manage the situation
If the above occurs, Airbnb policy states that guests must be given the opportunity to remain at the property without the animal.
Since an ESA is not considered a service animal, an Airbnb host is allowed to request their removal, or forbid them to enter their property in the first place. They can also charge you a pet fee for your ESA.
Can an Airbnb host ask for pet fees?
An Airbnb can charge you a pet fee for an ESA but not for a service animal. However, should any damage be incurred to the property due to the service animal, the host has the right to charge any repair fees to the guest.
What should I do if I am denied a reservation because of my SA?
Airbnb strives to adhere to its non-discrimination policy and make everyone feel welcome. If a host has denied your reservation because of your service animal, you can submit a complaint to Airbnb. Hosts who breach these non-discrimination rules can be suspended from Airbnb, especially if they exhibit a pattern of rejecting guests for these reasons.
Acquiring an ESA or Service Animal
While the laws regulating ESAs and SAs 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.
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!