Iowa Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Iowa law requires landlords and public accommodations to allow service dogs and assistive animals that help persons with disabilities.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

Under Iowa's disability rights law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities have the right to be accompanied by their service animals in restaurants, hotels, stores, theaters, and other public accommodations. Public accommodations in Iowa must comply with both state and federal law. Below, we explain which public accommodations are covered, which animals qualify as service animals, and some rules you may need to follow with your service animal.

What Types of Service Animals Are Covered in Iowa?

Under Iowa law, public accommodations must allow you to be accompanied by your service dog or assistive animal. A service dog is a dog that is specially trained to assist a person with a disability, whether the dog is referred to as a service dog, an independence dog, a support dog, or by any other title. An assistive animal means a simian (a monkey or an ape) or other animal that is specially trained or in training to assist a person with a disability.

Under the ADA, a service animal is a dog or miniature horse that has been trained to perform disability-related tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. Examples of service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA include:

  • hearing dogs, which alert their handlers to important sounds, such as alarms, doorbells, and other signals
  • guide dogs, which help those who are blind or visually impaired navigate safely
  • psychiatric service animals, which help their handlers manage mental and emotional disabilities by, for example, interrupting self-harming behaviors, reminding handlers to take medication, checking spaces for intruders, or providing calming pressure during anxiety or panic attacks
  • seizure alert animals, which let their handlers know of impending seizures, and may also guard their handlers during seizure activity, and
  • allergen alert animals, which let their handlers know of foods or other substances that could be dangerous (such as peanuts).

The ADA doesn't include what some people call "emotional support animals": animals that provide a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional conditions. Although these animals often have therapeutic benefits, they are not individually trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers. Similarly, although Iowa law refers to support animals, only animals that are trained to assist someone with a disability are covered by the law, not animals whose purpose is to provide comfort simply by being present. Neither the ADA nor Iowa's disability law cover pets.

What Counts as a Public Accommodation in Iowa?

In Iowa, people with disabilities may bring their service animals with them to any place of public accommodation. In Iowa, public accommodations include:

  • all common carriers and forms of public transportation, including buses, trains, boats, and motor vehicles
  • hotels and lodging places
  • restaurants, bars, and other places to eat or drink
  • all places of public accommodation, amusement, or resort, from stores and businesses to parks, zoos, golf courses, swimming pools, and more, and
  • all other places to which the public is invited.

Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is also very broad and includes any place that is open to the public.

Are There Rules for Service Animals in Iowa?

The ADA and Iowa law prohibit public accommodations from charging a special admission fee or requiring you to pay any other extra cost to have your service animal with you. However, you may have to pay for any damage your animal causes.

And under the ADA, a public accommodation may not ask you questions about your disability or demand to see certification, identification, or other proof of your animal's training or status. If it is not apparent what your service animal does, the establishment may ask you only whether it is a service animal, and what tasks it performs for you.

The ADA allows a public accommodation to exclude your service animal if it poses a direct threat to health and safety (or example, if your dog is aggressively barking and snapping at other customers, the facility can kick the dog out). Your animal may also be excluded if it is not housebroken, or if it is out of control and you are unable or unwilling to effectively control it. Under Iowa law, your service or assistive animal must be under control. You are still entitled to enter the public accommodation even if your service animal is not allowed in.

Are Service Animals Allowed in Housing in Iowa?

Iowa law and the federal Fair Housing Act and prohibit discrimination in housing accommodations against those who use service animals (and assistive animals, under Iowa law). You must be allowed full and equal access to all housing facilities, and may not be charged extra for having a service animal (although you may have to pay for damage your animal causes). If your lease or rental agreement includes a "no pets" provision, it does not apply to your service animal.

In addition, the federal Fair Housing Act says that housing facilities must allow service dogs 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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