Illinois Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Illinois and federal law protect your right to have a service dog in public places and other assistance animals in housing.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

Under Illinois law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), if you're disabled, you can bring your 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. (Special rules apply to flying with your service animal.)

Under state and federal law, public accommodations can't charge you an extra fee or expense for bringing your service animal. Under Illinois law, however, you must pay for any damage your animal causes.

Illinois law and the ADA differ in some ways, but public accommodations in Illinois must comply with both state and federal laws. And you're entitled to rely on whichever law provides the most protection. 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.

Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA defines a service animal as a dog that's individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. (A miniature horse can sometimes qualify as a service animal under the ADA.) The tasks or work your animal does must be directly related to your disability.

Illinois White Cane Law. The Illinois "White Cane" Law requires public facilities to allow the following service animals:

  • 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 fits one of the following descriptions:

  • has a visual disability or is blind
  • has a hearing impairment
  • has epilepsy or another seizure disorder, or
  • has another physical disability.

Those with mental disabilities (who use psychiatric service animals, for example) appear to be excluded by the state's White Cane Law.

Illinois Human Rights Act. The provision of the Illinois Human Rights Act that applies to housing has a similar limitation: It protects your right to have the following in rental housing:

  • a guide dog
  • a hearing dog, or
  • a dog that assists you with other physical disabilities.

Illinois Criminal Code. The Illinois Criminal Code, however, defines service animals more broadly to include dogs (and miniature horses) that are trained or in training as any of the following:

  • guide animals
  • hearing animals
  • seizure alert animals
  • assistance animals
  • mobility animals
  • autism assistance animals
  • psychiatric service animals,
  • or animals trained for any other physical, mental, or intellectual disability.

(Special rules apply to miniature horses, which might be more difficult to accommodate.)

The criminal code penalizes public accommodations that refuse to admit service animals.

Does Illinois Have Protections for Emotional Support Animals?

None of the above definitions include "emotional support animals" (ESAs): 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 aren't covered under the ADA or Illinois' laws because they aren't trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers—meaning that, like pets, they don't qualify as service animals.

So under the ADA and Illinois law, owners of public accommodations aren't required to admit emotional support animals or pets—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, including:
    • 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, including:
    • daycare centers,
    • public and private schools, and
    • colleges and universities.
  • social service centers, like:
    • homeless shelters
    • senior centers, and
    • food banks.

Illinois law also has a special provision that applies to public swimming facilities. Under state law, facilities must admit your service dog if it's 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 the sanitary conditions or function of the facility. This provision doesn't protect your right to have any other type of service animal at a swimming facility—only dogs.

What About Dogs Who Pose Safety Issues?

A public accommodation isn't required to allow you to have your service animal if the animal 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're unable to stop the behavior, the dog might have to leave.

And note that if your service animal isn't housebroken or is out of control (and you can't or won't get it under control), you can be asked to remove the animal.

Do Landlords in Illinois Have to Allow Service or Emotional Support Animals?

Under the Illinois Human Rights Law, it's illegal to refuse to sell or rent housing to someone with a physical disability (including blindness and hearing impairment) because that person has a guide dog, hearing dog, or other support dog. This provision applies only to those with physical disabilities.

But the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) is broader. Under the FHA, housing facilities must allow service animals and emotional support animals if having the animal is 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 both:

  • a disability and
  • a disability-related need for the animal.

And to qualify for FHA protection, your animal must perform tasks or services or alleviate the emotional effects of your disability.

Under the FHA, service animals and emotional support animals aren't pets. That means "no pet" policies don't apply to your service animal or ESA, and you don't have to pay a pet deposit or higher rent to have one in your home. For more information, see the Department of Housing and Urban Development's guidance on service animals.

(Learn more about your housing rights as a disabled renter.)

Updated June 29, 2023

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