What is a Companion Animal?

A companion animal is a domestic creature that provides companionship to a human. Companion animals are indistinguishable from pets.

According to the ASPCA, a companion animal “should be domesticated or domestic-bred animals whose physical, emotional, behavioral and social needs can be readily met as companions in the home, or in close daily relationship with humans.” The group continues on to say that suitable companion animals include “dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, ferrets, birds, guinea pigs, and select other small mammals, small reptiles and fish. Where they may be kept legally and responsibly, domestic-bred farm animals can also be maintained as companions.” Companion animals are practically identical to the family pet, which is why wild animals and wild-domestic hybrids aren’t considered to be good companion animals. Also, “companion animals are not individually trained to perform any specific kind of task. Instead, the principal service that companion animals provide is simply that—companionship. While service animals are trained to behave flawlessly in public, companion animals may or may not be as well-behaved.”

Companion Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)

In terms of the rental industry, the phrase “companion animal” is often used interchangeably with “emotional support animal.” However, companion animals are more closely synonymous with pets, and they’re not granted special protections or permissions. If your potential tenant mentions that they have a companion animal, ask follow-up questions like:

  • What kind of pet is it?
  • Is it a certified companion animal?
  • Can I see the certificate?

If the tenant answers the last two questions affirmatively, look over their documentation. They may be calling their emotional support animal a companion animal incorrectly. Proper documentation would constitute an ESA Housing Letter that lists:

  • The signature of a medical professional, social worker, peer support group, or another reliable party
  • A statement indicating how long the tenant has been a patient/group member
  • An explanation of why the ESA is necessary

Tenants with completed documentation are awarded specific rights under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, including the right to have their ESA live in-property without paying extra fines, fees, or deposits.

Can I Charge Pet Rent for Companion Animals?

If your four-legged tenant is not a service animal or ESA, you can charge pet rent, pet fees, or a pet deposit. Look up your local landlord-tenant laws to craft your charges, fees, and rent without risking your legal compliance.

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