Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Maryland’s disability rights law, people with disabilities have the right to be accompanied by their service animals in housing and in restaurants, hotels, stores, theaters, and other places that are open to the public. Below, we explain which animals qualify as service animals, which public accommodations are covered, and some rules you may need to follow with your service animal.
Maryland’s service animal law applies to guide dogs, signal dogs, and other animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities, such as pulling a wheelchair, alerting upon the onset of a seizure, picking up dropped items, alerting to certain sounds, guiding someone who is visually impaired, or providing minimal protection or rescue work.
Under the ADA, a service animal is a dog that has been trained to perform disability-related tasks for someone with a physical or mental disability. In some cases, a miniature horse may also qualify as a service animal. Examples of service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA include:
Maryland law and the ADA do not cover what some people call “emotional support animals”: animals whose presence provides 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 people with disabilities.
Maryland’s disability rights law gives people the right to bring their service animals on all modes of transportation and common carriers (such as buses, trains, ferries, and so on), into all places where the public is invited, and into all places of public accommodation. The law doesn’t further define what counts as a public accommodation.
Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations is very broad. It includes:
Religious entities, such as churches, synagogues, and mosques, are not considered public accommodations under the ADA. This is so even if the religious entity offers secular services, such as a day-care center that admits children whether or not they are members of or affiliated with the religious institution. Private clubs (member-controlled nonprofit groups that are highly selective, charge substantial membership fees, and were not created in order to avoid compliance with civil rights laws) are also not covered by the ADA. However, if a private club makes facilities available to nonmembers, it is subject to the ADA’s public accommodation rules as to those facilities.
The ADA and Maryland 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.
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 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.
Maryland law requires landlords to allow service animals for their tenants with disabilities. You cannot be required to pay extra to have your service animal, but you may have to pay for damage the animal causes to the rental.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing accommodations against those who use service animals. As under Maryland state 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.
Pursuant to the federal Fair Housing Act, 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.)