Service animals can make everyday tasks much easier for people with disabilities. Service animals can guide, inform their handler of important noises, fetch dropped items, sense changing blood sugar levels, and provide significant comfort and emotional support. While the law considers service animals tools, like hearing aids or wheelchairs, many people are misinformed and see service animals as pets. The law regulating service animals can be quite confusing. Disability Rights Wisconsin is here to help educate those with service animals on their rights.
Under state and federal statutes and regulations, persons with disabilities are allowed the use of service animals in many locations where animals are otherwise prohibited. Both federal and state law regulate service animals.
Service animal rights differ between places of public accommodation and housing. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers places of public accommodation. The ADA requires businesses, state and local government agencies, non-profit organizations and other entities that provide services to the public to make reasonable modifications in their policies, rules, and practices for those with service animals. Places of worship are not subject to the ADA.
Places of Public Accommodation (under the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA])
The ADA has a specific definition of service animal. A service animal is a dog or miniature horse that has been trained to do a specific task in order to benefit a person with a disability. Emotional support animals are explicitly not covered under the ADA. Service animals do not need to be professionally trained; however, they must be trained to complete a specific task to benefit an individual with a disability. Further, service animals must be in the control of their handler at all times. There are additional regulations for miniature horses as service animals.
Entities covered by the ADA are only able to ask two question to those with service animals. They may ask if the service animal is required because of a disability, and what tasks the animal is trained to do. The entities may only ask these questions if the answers are not readily apparent. This means that if the entity knows or is able to tell what disability a person has, and the task the service animal provides, it is not allowed to ask the above questions. Entities covered by the ADA may not ask for documentation of a disability or the need for a service animal and may not charge an additional fee for service animals. Entities may only charge if a service animal damages the property, and if the entity customarily charges non-disabled customers for damages as well.
There are some instances in which an entity covered by the ADA may deny access to service animals. If the service animal is not housebroken, if the service animal is out of control of the handler and the handler is unable to regain control, or if the service animal poses a direct threat to human health and safety, the service animal may be denied entry. The entity needs to look at the specific service animal to determine if it poses a threat to health or safety; stereotypes based off breed or past experience are not sufficient to deny entry. The entity must still allow the person with a disability to enter without their service animal. Service animals may go wherever the general public is allowed.
Housing (under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973)
The right to keep a service animal in a dwelling is controlled by the Fair Housing Act and by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These acts prohibit discrimination because of disability. The definition for service animals under these acts is broader than the ADA definition. Any animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of someone with a disability is a service animal. Emotional support animals and all types of animals are included. Those looking to live with their service animal should file a request for a reasonable accommodation with their housing provider. It is always a good idea to get a request for a reasonable accommodation in writing.
Reasonable accommodations usually modify existing rules, policies, and practices in order to allow people with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy the comfort of their dwelling. It is unlawful for housing providers to refuse a reasonable accommodation for someone with a disability if they meet two requirements: (1) an individual seeking to live with a service animal has a disability; and (2) there is a disability-related need for the service animal. Housing providers may only ask for documentation of a disability or a disability-related need for a service animal if it is not apparent to the housing provider. Housing providers must keep all documentation confidential.
There are a few exceptions to granting reasonable accommodations. If granting a reasonable accommodation would impose an undue financial or administrative burden that would fundamentally change the services offered by the housing provider, then the housing provider may refuse the reasonable accommodation. If the service animal poses a direct threat to human health or safety, or cause substantial physical damage to the property, the housing provider may deny the request for the reasonable accommodation. Further, if the owner of the building occupies a unit in a building with four or fewer units, and the owner or an immediate family member of the owner has an allergy to the service animal, they are able to refuse the request.
Housing providers are not able to refuse requests to allow a service animal because of the size or breed of the animal. It is unlawful for housing providers to require additional pay or security deposit for the service animal