Service Animals in Lodging Properties
By Justin Bragiel, General Counsel
Hospitality businesses are seeing an increase in guests requesting accommodation for services animals, and members continue to contact us with questions regarding allowing dogs in lodging properties. To help avoid potential exposure to liability, it is important to understand the rules under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) pertaining to service animals.
How does the ADA apply to service animals in lodging properties?
Under the ADA, privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as lodging properties, restaurants, retail stores, and other businesses, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.
What is a service animal?
The ADA defines a service animal as a dog or miniature horse whose work or tasks are directly related to the individual’s disability. If the animal meets this definition, the animal is considered a service animal under the ADA, regardless of whether the animal has been licensed or certified by a state or local government.
A service animal is not a pet. Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. Visual guide dogs are one type of service animal most people are familiar with, but there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include:
Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds,
Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments, and
Assisting persons with mobility impairments and balance.
Are emotional support animals covered under the ADA?
There is sometimes confusion on the topic of emotional support animals because different disability laws such as the Air Carrier Access Act and the Fair Housing Act treat emotional support animals differently from the ADA. Technically, an animal whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, etc. is not a “service animal” under the ADA. However, keep in mind that an emotional support animal may also provide physical assistance to a guest with a physical disability.
If the guest states that his/her dog is an “emotional support” animal, you could respond as follows:
If you have a service dog covered by Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we are happy to accommodate you and your service animal. So that we may better meet your needs, can you please provide us with the following information:
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? And,
- What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
If your dog is not a service animal covered by Title III of the ADA, our hotel’s usual pet policy will apply.
How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?
Some service animals wear special collars and harnesses. However, the absence of a special collar or harness does not mean the animal is not a service animal covered under the ADA.
If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the guest if a service animal is required because of a disability, and you may ask the guest what work or tasks the animal has been trained to perform.
However, you may not require the guest to provide documentation as a condition for providing service to an individual accompanied by a service animal. There is not required a federal or state identification card that shows an animal is certified as a service animal. Accordingly, you may not insist on proof of certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.
What must a hotel operator do when an individual with a service animal comes to my lodging property?
The service animal must be permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. An individual with a service animal may not be segregated from other customers, and the lodging operator may not discriminate against the guest
Our hotel has a clearly posted “no pets” policy. Do we still have to allow service animals in?
Yes. A service animal is not considered a pet. The ADA requires you to modify your “no pets” policy to allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability. This does not mean you must abandon your “no pets” policy altogether, but you must make an exception to the pets policy for service animals.
Can the hotel charge a standard maintenance or cleaning fee for guests who bring service animals into my property?
No. Neither a deposit nor a surcharge may be imposed on an individual with a disability as a condition to allowing a service animal to accompany the individual, even if deposits are routinely required for pets. However, a lodging property may charge a guest if a service animal causes damage, so long as it is the regular practice of the property to charge non-disabled customers for the same types of damages. For example, a hotel can charge a guest with a disability for the cost of repairing or cleaning furniture damaged by a service animal if it is the hotel’s policy to charge when non-disabled guests cause such damage. However, a hotel may not charge “cleaning” charge or pet charge for a service animal, unless that animal causes actual damage to the hotel property.
Is the lodging property responsible for the animal while the person with a disability is at the lodging facility?
No. The care or supervision of a service animal is solely the responsibility of his or her owner. You are not required to provide care or food or a special location for the animal. And, guests should not be permitted to leave their service animals unattended in the guest room, as this poses a potential safety issue for hotel staff or other guests.
What if a service animal barks or growls at other people, or otherwise acts as if it is out of control?
A hotel may exclude any animal, including a service animal, from the facility when that animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal that displays vicious behavior towards other guests or customers may be excluded. You may not make assumptions, however, about how a particular animal is likely to behave based on your past experience with other animals. Each situation must be considered individually.
Are “police dogs” or other emergency response animals treated the same way as ADA service animals?
Lodging properties should treat “service canines” in a manner similar to an ADA service animal.
Commonly referred to a “police dogs” or “rescue dogs,” service canines technically do not fall under the ADA. However, Texas state law prohibits a lodging property from requiring the payment of an extra fee or security deposit for a “service canine” accompanying a peace officer, firefighter, or a search and rescue operator to a hotel or restaurant. As with the ADA, either the canine’s handler or the canine unit’s department or agency may be held liable for damages caused by the service canine. A lodging property may be subject to a civil penalty of up to $200 per violation for failure to comply with this provision.
If you have further questions about service animals or other requirements of the ADA, do not hesitate to contact us by phone at 512.474.2996 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.