Posts Tagged ‘service animal laws’

The Federal Fair Housing Act does not allow landlords to discriminate based on disability. However, the scenarios surrounding this law may not appear cut and dry; each situation can look different. Therefore it is essential to look at every scenario individually and take action accordingly. 

Seeking a Home with a Service Animal

Let’s go over a common event when landlords accept service animals but still require a pet security deposit.

Typically, a landlord —or their designee—schedules a rental unit showing with a prospective tenant. When the tenant attends the showing, she brings her Golden Retriever with her. She discloses that her dog is trained to monitor her for impending seizures. The landlord happily approves the tenant for the rental. However, the landlord also expects a pet security deposit, to ensure that the unit remains in good condition. The landlord states that they can offer her 20% off the usual pet fee and pet security deposit because her dog is a service dog. 

1. What Does the Federal Fair Housing Act Say?

Does the pet fee and pet security deposit request, even at a discounted rate, violate the Federal Fair Housing Act? 

According to the Federal Fair Housing Act, a landlord discriminates against a disability if the landlord refuses to provide “reasonable accommodation.” This means an individual with a disability should have the same opportunities to live within a rental as a person without a disability. 

Since the service animal performs a specific task required for a disability, the Golden Retriever is more than a pet. The dog is a service animal and a necessity for its owner. Therefore, the pet fee and pet security deposit do not apply to service animals. 

2. How Does a Service Animal Relate to a Person’s Disability?

People often forget that although a service animal is an animal, it’s much more than that. The service animal helps fulfill a specific task that an individual with a disability needs for safety or for daily life. A service animal is a critical medical tool to overcome a disability. To charge an additional fee for the service animal would be like charging an individual for using a cane or a wheelchair—the service dog is a vital “tool” to the owner to overcome the disadvantages of their disability.

Charging a pet security fee or a pet deposit for a service animal is unethical and illegal. 

3. Who Pays for Damages? 

Does this mean that a person with a disability would never need to pay for damages incurred by their service animal?

Of course, they do. No matter how well-trained a service animal is, they’re still animals. Accidents happen. If the rental property sustains damages from a service animal, then the fees would come out of the usual security deposit or need to be paid for by the owner of the service animal. 

A pet security deposit cannot be demanded because of the service animal. Instead, any service animal damages—aside from usual wear and tear—would be treated like any others would. The only difference is that the damage would be classified as done by the owner, not charged as damages done by a pet. 

However, if a service animal owner fails to demonstrably care for their animal—fails to toilet them properly or keep them clean—then the issue can be reported as a situation of animal neglect.

It’s always essential, in any residence, for service animal owners to care for their pets well and respect the rights of others around them. 

4. What If the Landlord Does Not Allow Pets At All?

If a landlord doesn’t allow pets, can a service animal still reside in the rental unit?

Yes! Remember, service animals are more than pets. A legitimate service animal is part of an individual’s treatment and care, they are considered a medical tool to assist in a person’s disability. By law service animals are allowed in residences and most anywhere their handler wants to take them. According to the Animal Legal and Historical Center, landlords may not ask for medical records, a doctor’s note, or prohibit an animal due to species or breed.

Be a Good Service Animal Owner

Each service animal owner is a representative of other owners, so it’s essential to approach disagreements responsibly and respectfully. Prepare yourself beforehand. Gather your documentation and have your questions and answers ready before seeking rental housing or engaging in disputes. 

Most landlords will be aware of service animal laws and readily accommodate them. For others, they may only see animals as pets. These landlords may benefit from a referral to Federal Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities Act laws. Service animals are much more than pets—they’re a vital intervention for a disability. 

Service dog owners are afforded special rights and protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is essential for every service dog handler to understand what their legal rights are and how to exercise them. It is also important for staff members at establishments such as restaurants, stores, hotels, schools, and other public locations to understand how they can properly verify a service dog without running afoul of ADA rules.  

In this article, we will explain what rights service dog handlers have under the ADA, how an animal companion qualifies as a service dog, and what staff members at public establishments are permitted and not permitted to ask a service dog owner. We will also answer some frequently asked questions regarding service dog rules. 

What is a service animal? How does the ADA define a disability? What disabilities qualify for a service dog under the ADA?  Where are service dogs allowed? Can I board flights with my service dog? What questions are you allowed to ask a service dog owner? Do I need a professional trainer to train my service dog? Can I train my service dog myself? Which breeds can be service dogs? Are emotional support animals the same thing as service animals? When can a business ask a service dog and its handler to leave an establishment?  Do you need a vest, ID card or special harness for a service dog? How do you certify or register a service dog? My city requires dogs be registered and licensed, are service dogs exempt?  My city requires that dogs be vaccinated, is that applicable to service dogs?  Can a service dog be off leash? Can a restaurant or hotel force my service dog to remain in a certain area? Can a hotel charge me for staying with a service dog? Are service dogs allowed in self-service restaurants, such as buffets? Are restaurants required to allow service dogs to be seated on chairs or be fed at the table? 1. What is a service animal?

The ADA defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for someone living with a disability. These tasks may include alerting people who are deaf, guiding people who are visually impaired, calming a person during an anxiety attack, reminding someone with depression to take prescription medications, or protecting a person who is experiencing a seizure. 

Service dogs that assist with mental and emotional health issues or learning disabilities are called psychiatric service dogs (PSD). Psychiatric service dogs are a type of service dog and have the same rights as service dogs that assist people with physical disabilities. When this article refers to “service dogs,” which also includes psychiatric service dogs. 

Service dogs are remarkable canines capable of a wide range of tasks that help make independent living possible for their handlers. These unique working animals undergo specialized training to learn tasks that mitigate the difficulties caused by specific disabilities. Service dogs are working animals – not pets. They must be trained to perform a task that is directly related to the handler’s disability. 

2. How does the ADA define a disability?

ADA service dog laws prohibit discrimination against disabled people with service animals in employment, public accommodations, state and local government activities, public transportation, commercial facilities, and telecommunication. In the context of the ADA, “disability” is used as a legal term as opposed to a medical one and has a specific definition.

Under the ADA, a person with a disability has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity. This includes individuals who are regarded as having a disability even if their disability is not physically visible (i.e., mental health conditions and learning disabilities). 

In addition to the ADA, owners of service dogs have rights under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), and various state laws. 

3. What disabilities qualify for a service dog under the ADA? 

In the context of the ADA, “disability” is used as a legal term as opposed to a medical one and has a specific definition: under the ADA, a person with a disability is someone who has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity. A disabled person can also be a person who has a history or record of such an impairment or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. 

The ADA does not specifically list out every type of impairment that qualifies as a disability. The disability can be a physical disability such as blindness or impaired mobility, or it can be an invisible disability in the form of a mental condition such as PTSD or severe depression or anxiety. 

4. Where are service dogs allowed?

Businesses, nonprofit organizations, and state and local governments that serve the public are generally required to allow service dogs to accompany people with disabilities in any areas open to the public. This would include restaurants, grocery stores, retail stores, hotels, office buildings, school campuses, parks, and other establishments open to the public. 

Service dogs can also board the cabin of airplanes with their owners without having to pay a pet fee.  Service dogs also have rights for housing: they are allowed to live with their owners free of charge or deposits, even in buildings that prohibit pets. 

5. Can I board flights with my service dog?

Service dogs and psychiatric service dogs are allowed to board flights with their owners, free of charge. The U.S. Department of Transportation implemented new regulations in early 2021 that effectively ended the ability of emotional support animals to board most U.S. flights. However, the DOT affirmed the right of service dogs and psychiatric service dogs to board flights in the cabin. 

Airlines cannot charge fees for service dogs to board, even though they may charge such fees for normal pets. To fly with a service dog, the passenger must submit a completed DOT Service Animal Transportation Form to the airline before boarding. The form requires the service dog handler to self-certify that they have a trained service animal. It also requires the name of the dog’s trainer (which can be the owner) and the name (but not the signature) of the dog’s veterinarian. 

For a complete guide to flying with a service animal or psychiatric service animal, check out this helpful article

6. What questions are you allowed to ask a service dog owner?

The staff or employees at a public establishment such as a restaurant, bar, store, hotel, office building, or school may only as two limited questions if it is not obvious what service the dog provides:

Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

The staff member cannot require a doctor’s note, inquire about the handler’s disability, ask for an identification card or training certificate, and/or demand medical documents.

In addition, staff members are not permitted to ask the handler to have their service dog demonstrate its ability to perform work for the owner. It is important to note as well that the two questions above are only allowed if the disability is not apparent. For example, if the service dog is being used as a guide dog for a blind person, it would not be appropriate to interrogate them about their service dog. 

7. Do I need a professional trainer to train my service dog? Can I train my service dog myself?

ADA service dog rules do not require that service dog owners use a professional trainer. To make your dog a service dog, you do not need to complete any specific training program. Service dog handlers are allowed to train their dog themselves without the help of a professional trainer or training program. 

Service dog owners should note that under ADA rules, service dogs in training are not considered to be service animals. That means that before a service dog owner can enjoy all of the rights afforded to service dog owners under the ADA, their dog must be fully trained to perform the task that assists with the handler’s disability. Some State and local laws may, however, give rights to dogs that are still in the training stages. 

8. Which breeds can be service dogs?

Under ADA rules for service dogs, a service dog can be any type of dog breed. A public establishment or landlord is not allowed to prohibit entry for a service dog solely because it is a certain breed. The service dog may be asked to leave the premises if it is not under the control of the handler or acts in a way that threatens the health and safety of others. Staff members and landlords at an establishment or apartment complex cannot however ask a service dog to leave simply because they are afraid of the dog solely due to preconceived notions about the dog’s breed. 

ADA rules also take precedent over local rules regarding breed restrictions. For example, if your city bans a certain breed of dog, that ban cannot be categorically applied to service animals. 

9. Are emotional support animals the same thing as service animals?

No, emotional support animals, or ESAs, are not the same thing as service animals. The ADA does not recognize dogs who solely provide emotional support or comfort as service animals. Unlike service dogs, emotional support animals do not require any special training

Emotional support animals are intended to provide support for mental and emotional disabilities through companionship. ESAs have more limited access rights than service dogs. Emotional support animals are allowed in residences and on flights but do not have a right to be in places such as stores, hotels, or restaurants that prohibit pets the same way service dogs do.

That does not mean a service dog cannot assist with a psychiatric condition. For example, a service dog can be used to remind depressed individuals to take their medication. Or, for someone with anxiety, a service dog can be trained to sense an impending anxiety attack and take actions to prevent the attack or minimize its impact. However, if a person with anxiety is just using the dog’s companionship as a source of comfort for their condition, the animal would not qualify as a service dog. 

10. When can a business ask a service dog and its handler to leave an establishment? 

A disabled person with a service dog can only be asked to remove their animal from the premises in limited circumstances. It is appropriate for staff members to ask a handler to remove their service dog if the dog is out of control or the dog is not housebroken. A service dog handler may also be asked to leave if their service dog’s actions are threatening the health and safety of other people. 

It is not appropriate to ask a service dog to leave due to allergies or a fear of dogs. Under ADA guidance, if someone is allergic to a dog and needs to share space with a disabled person and their service dog, both people should be accommodated by assigning them where possible to different locations within the room or facility. 

11. Do you need a vest, ID card or special harness for a service dog?

Under ADA service dog rules, items such as vests, ID cards, or special harnesses are not required for service dogs. However, many service dog owners utilize these accessories as helpful tools that signal to the public that their dog is a service dog. By using a service dog ID card, vest or harness, a service dog handler can clearly indicate to members of the public that their dog is on duty and should not be disturbed. These accessories help to set proper boundaries so handlers can avoid invasive inquiries and interactions. 

12. How do you certify or register a service dog?

Service animals do not need to be certified or registered to qualify as service animals. Employees and staff are not permitted to require documentation from a handler that the animal is certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal as a condition for entry.

Some service dog owners will certify or register their dogs through an organization to help notify others that their animal is a service dog. However, these documents are optional and do not by themselves convey legal rights under the ADA.  

13. My city requires dogs be registered and licensed, are service dogs exempt? 

No, service dogs are not exempt from local registration and licensing requirements that apply to all dogs. This is different from organizations that register and license dogs as service animals. As discussed earlier, these organizations do not confer any official status on service dogs and their services are optional. If your city however requires all dogs to be licensed and registered, your service dog must also comply. 

14. My city requires that dogs be vaccinated, is that applicable to service dogs? 

Service dogs are not exempt from local rules regarding animal control and health. If your city requires vaccinations for all dogs, then your service dog must also comply. 

15. Can a service dog be off leash?

Under ADA rules, a service dog must always be under the control of its owner. Service dogs must be tethered, harnessed, or leashed unless the owner’s disability prevents them from using these items or these items interfere with the dog’s ability to safely and effectively perform its tasks. In situations where a tether, harness, or leash is not suitable, the handler must maintain control of their animal through voice, signal, or other means of control. An establishment can ask a handler to remove their service dog from the premises if the handler does not have control of their animal. 

16. Can a restaurant or hotel force my service dog to remain in a certain area?

No, under ADA Rules for service dogs, handlers with service dogs cannot be isolated from other customers or treated less favorably than other customers. The establishment cannot have a special area for service dogs and limit the handler’s activities to that one area. For example, a hotel cannot limit guests with service dogs to designated “pet-friendly” rooms.

17. Can a hotel charge me for staying with a service dog?

No, a business can never charge a deposit or fee in connection with service dogs. If the hotel charges a fee for pets, it must waive that fee for a guest who is staying with a service dog. Hotels are also not allowed to charge service dog owners cleaning fees to clean up hair or dander shed by the dog. However, if the hotel or other business usually charges guests for damages, a handler can be held responsible for paying for any damage caused by their service dog.  

18. Are service dogs allowed in self-service restaurants, such as buffets?

Yes, service dogs must be allowed to accompany their owners through self-service food areas such as salad bars and buffets. Service animals are also allowed in cafeterias such as those found in the workplace or on school campuses.  

19. Are restaurants required to allow service dogs to be seated on chairs or be fed at the table?

No, seating at a restaurant and the food served at the establishment are for patrons only. A service dog owner is allowed to have their animal companion next to them, but they cannot expect the restaurant to allow the dog to be seated or fed at the table. 

No, a landlord cannot refuse access to a service dog as they are protected by the ADA. A service dog is a medical tool and not a pet.

Laws protecting Assistance Animals in No Pet Housing  

There are two types of assistance animals that have special rights regarding housing. The first is service dogs and the second is emotional support animals. If you have a mental or physical disability that requires you to have either a Service Dog or an Emotional Support Animal, you have rights under Federal Law. A few of these rights include:

1). Access to “no pets” policy housing 2). Exemption from monthly pet fees 3). Exemption from a higher pet deposit 4). Exemption from breed or weight discrimination

The ADA does not put breed or weight restrictions on Service Dogs or Emotional Support Animals. This means a landlord must allow you housing regardless of the breed, age, and weight of your assistance animal. However, there is one exception to this rule. If your service dog/animal causes damage to the property or disruption/harm to the other tenants you can be asked to leave the building.

If you feel you have been discriminated against when it comes to housing, you can file an official complaint with the HUD in your area. If you feel a service dog is right for you, continue reading.

Overview on Service Dogs

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recognizes a number of both physical and mental conditions that could require a Service Dog. Unlike an emotional support animal (ESA), the Service Dog is specifically trained to perform tasks an individual cannot do for themselves. This could be anything from retrieving dropped items, guiding the person, to alerting to an oncoming seizure. It is important to understand the difference between a service dog and an emotional support animal.

Training a Service Dog takes time and patience. This can be done by the individual requiring the dog or by a professional organization. Adopting a fully trained service dog can cost thousands of dollars. You may be interested in training your service dog yourself and seeking support from local trainers. Do not let cost prevent you from seeking support from a service dog.

Service Dogs are a tremendous aid for people in need, providing them with the freedom and independence many of us take for granted.

Overview on Service Dog Access Rights 

When you have a legitimate Service Dog, you will have the right and access to all areas where the general public is allowed. This includes retail locations, restaurants, hotels, and beaches. In addition, when flying, you and your Service Dog will be granted in cabin seating of an airplane at no extra cost to you.

However, there may be some restrictions placed on your Service’s Dog’s accessibility. These include;

Hospital ICU or other areas where special clothing is required Treatment area of an ambulance Restricted areas on a military base Zoo exhibit where the Service Animal may upset the animals of the exhibit

Overview on Registration and Vest of the Service Dog

After your Service Dog has been trained to perform the task(s) you need him to do, it’s time to have him registered. Register your service dog here – Service Dog Certification.

Once this is completed, you will then have access to a Service Dog vest. When your dog wears this special form of identification, it’s letting the public know that your canine companion is a working animal and therefore should be treated as such. This includes not interacting with the dog and making allowances for the animal to enter into all public areas. To learn more about service dog vest requirements click here.

Overview on Communication When You Have a Service Dog

There are two ways of communicating your need for a Service Dog to those that may dispel your requirement. The first is to always stay calm and don’t escalate the situation. Explain to the individual what tasks the Service Dog performs for you. This may be more necessary if your disability is not outwardly apparent.

The second line of communication is the documentation you received when you registered your Service Dog. This may be in the form of the vest, badges, and/or an official certificate of authenticity as we mentioned above.

If you are dealing with a particularly stubborn individual, read this guide on traveling with a service dog.

The Service Dog & You

Know your rights when it comes to having a Service Dog. If any of these rights have been violated, then go through the proper channels to ensure you get results. Having a Service Dog should not prevent you from living a life of freedom.

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