Illinois Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Illinois and federal law protect the right to have service dogs in public places and may cover other service animals in housing.

By , J.D.
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Under Illinois law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities may bring their service animals to all "public accommodations," such as restaurants, museums, hotels, and stores. These laws also require those who operate transportation services to allow service animals.

You may not be charged an extra fee or expense for bringing your service animal into a place of public accommodation. Under Illinois law, however, you must pay for any damage caused by your animal.

Illinois law and the ADA differ in some ways, but public accommodations in Illinois must comply with both sets of laws, and their patrons are entitled to rely on whichever law provides the most protections. Read on to learn which animals qualify as service animals, which public accommodations must allow them, and more.

Which Animals Qualify as Service Animals in Illinois?

Several provisions of Illinois law describe the types of service animals that must be allowed in public accommodations. These laws differ in whether they cover service animals for physical disabilities only, or whether service animals are covered for those with mental disabilities as well.

Illinois White Cane Law. The Illinois "White Cane" Law requires public facilities to allow guide dogs, hearing dogs, seizure response dogs, seizure alert dogs, and "support" dogs. The law doesn't define these terms, but says that these dogs must be in training or being specially trained to assist someone who is blind or has a visual disability, has a hearing impairment, has epilepsy or another seizure disorder, or has another physical disability. In other words, those with mental disabilities (who use psychiatric service animals, for example) appear to be excluded by the law.

Illinois Human Rights Act. The provision of the Illinois Human Rights Act that applies to housing has a similar limitation: It applies only guide dogs, hearing dogs, and dogs that assist persons with other physical disabilities.

Illinois Criminal Code. The Illinois Criminal Code, however, penalizes public accommodations that refuse to admit service animals, and this law defines service animals more broadly to include dogs (and miniature horses) that are trained or in training as a guide animal, hearing animal, seizure alert animal, assistance animal, mobility animal, autism assistance animal, psychiatric service animal, or animal trained for any other physical, mental, or intellectual disability. (Special rules apply to miniature horses, which may be more difficult to accommodate.)

Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. (In some cases, a miniature horse may also qualify as a service animal under the ADA.) The tasks or work the animal does must be directly related to the person's disability.

None of these definitions include pets or what some call "emotional support animals": animals that provide a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional disabilities or conditions. Although these animals often have therapeutic benefits, they are not trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers. Under the ADA and Illinois law, owners of public accommodations are not required to allow emotional support animals, only service animals (including psychiatric service animals).

Which Public Accommodations Must Allow Service Animals in Illinois?

Under both Illinois law and the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is very broad. It includes:

  • hotels and other lodging establishments
  • public transportation and terminals, depots, and stations
  • restaurants and other places that serve food and drink
  • sales or rental establishments
  • service establishments
  • any place of public gathering, such as an auditorium or convention center
  • places of entertainment and exhibit, like theaters or sports stadiums
  • gyms, bowling alleys, and other places of exercise or recreation
  • recreational facilities, such as zoos and parks
  • libraries, museums, and other places where items are collected or displayed publicly
  • educational institutions, and
  • social service centers, like senior centers, homeless shelters, and food banks.

Illinois law also has a special provision that applies to public swimming pools: These facilities must allow service animals that are trained to perform a specific task or work in the water, unless doing so would pose a direct threat to the health and safety of other patrons or to the sanitary conditions or function of the facility.

What About Dogs Who Pose Safety Issues?

A public accommodation is not required to allow your service animal to remain if it poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. If, for example, your service dog is growling and lunging at other patrons, and you are unable to stop the behavior, the dog might have to leave.

Are Illinois Landlords Required to Allow Service Dogs or Support Animals?

Under the Illinois Human Rights Law, it is illegal to refuse to sell or rent housing to someone who is blind, hearing impaired, or has another physical disability because that person has a guide dog, hearing dog, or other support dog. This provision applies only to those with physical disabilities.

The federal Fair Housing Act is broader: Housing facilities must allow service animals and emotional support animals, if necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home. To fall under this provision, you must have a disability and you must have a disability-related need for the animal. In other words, the animal must work, perform tasks or services, or alleviate the emotional effects of your disability in order to qualify. (For more information, see the Department of Housing and Urban Development's guidance on service animals.)

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