Published on:

A Landlord’s Guide to Emotional Support and Service Dogs in Maryland Rental Housing

When are emotional support and/or service animals allowed in rental housing in Maryland? 

Under Maryland law, landlords are required to allow tenants with disabilities to keep emotional support and/or service dog in the rental unit, with very limited exceptions.  Landlords may be able to inquire and request that documentation be provided by a tenant regarding the need for the requested reasonable accommodation for an emotional support and/or service animal, prior to granting such request.   


What is a service animal? 

A service animal, under Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other disability. Tasks performed can include, among other things, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication, or pressing an elevator button. Examples of a service animal include a guide or seeing eye dog, a hearing or signal dog, a psychiatric service dog, and a seizure response dog.  


What is an emotional support animal? 

Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy animals are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. While emotional support animals or comfort animals are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals, they are not considered service animals under the ADA. These support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.  


What can a landlord do when a tenant requests a reasonable accommodation to have an emotional support animal and/or service animal?  

In Maryland, tenants with disabilities are protected from discrimination in housing under Section 20-706 of the State Government Article of the Maryland Code, titled “Discrimination Against Individuals with Disabilities; Accessibility.” Section 20-706 states that a person may not refuse to make a reasonable accommodation in rules, policies, practices, or services when the accommodation may be necessary to afford an individual with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling. Under this Section, inquiries into the existence, nature, and extent of disabilities are prohibited by a landlord when an application is made by a prospective tenant for housing. However, an individual with a disability who requests a reasonable accommodation related to an emotional support animal and/or service animal may be asked by a landlord to provide documentation so that the landlord can properly review the accommodation request if the disability and disability-related need of the animal is not obvious. In this scenario, landlords are legally permitted to ask a prospective tenant to certify, in writing, (1) that the tenant or a member of his or her family is a person with a disability; (2) the need of the animal to assist the person with that specific disability; and (3) that the animal actually assists the person with a disability. A landlord may NOT ask a renter to provide access to medical records or medical providers.  


What types of reasonable accommodations and/or modifications  can a landlord provide for a service dog or emotional support animal in Maryland? 

Waiving a no-pet rule to allow a person with a disability to have the assistance of a service dog or an emotional support animal in Maryland constitutes a reasonable accommodation. Another common reasonable accommodation or modification of a residential lease is to waive breed or size requirements for service animals and emotional support animals. 

A landlord may not charge the tenant a deposit, fee, or surcharge to have an animal in their unit if an emotional support animal and/or service animal is approved pursuant to a reasonable accommodation request. However, a tenant may be charged for any damage the animal causes to the rental unit. 


When can a landlord deny a tenant’s reasonable accommodation request to have an emotional support animal and/or service animal? 

In certain circumstances, a landlord may deny a tenant’s reasonable accommodation request to have an emotional support animal, even after the tenant provides supporting documentation. Under the Fair Housing Act, in order to legally deny such a request, a landlord must be able to demonstrate that: (1) granting the request would impose an undue financial and administrative burden on the landlord, (2) the request would fundamentally alter the essential nature of the landlord’s operations, (3) the specific assistance animal in question would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others despite any other reasonable accommodations that could eliminate or reduce the threat, or (4) the request would result in significant physical damage to the property of others despite any other reasonable accommodations that could eliminate or reduce the physical damage. For emotional support animals and/or service animals, generally the last two exceptions are the most common. As an example, if a requested accommodation is for the tenant to have a cat as an emotional support animal, and the landlord has a life-threatening allergy to cats, such request could be denied by the landlord. Likewise, if an animal is out-of-control and the handler is unable to control the animal, a landlord may be able to prohibit the animal. 


If you have questions regarding a reasonable accommodation related to Maryland emotional support animal laws and/or Maryland service dog laws, please do not hesitate to contact us by phone or email: 


Avery Barton Strachan, Esq.  

(410) 385-9113 


Kerri L. Smith, Esq.  

(410) 385-9106 


Erin Donohue Brooks, Esq. 

(410) 385-9101 



Disclaimer: Local, State and Federal laws, orders, rules and regulations may be modified and updated at any time and without notice.  Likewise, orders of the Court and communications regarding Landlord-Tenant actions are also being continuously added, amended, and updated. That said, the information provided is based on our current understanding of the laws, orders, rules, and regulations that are currently in effect.  Therefore, we strongly recommend that you seek legal counsel before initiating any sort of Landlord-Tenant action to ensure that you are acting in compliance with all aspects of any local, Maryland and Federal laws, orders, rules, and regulations in effect at that time, as well as all orders of the Court. 

Contact Information