Maryland Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Under Maryland and federal law, you can bring a service animal into housing or any public place.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

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 public places like:

  • restaurants
  • theaters, and
  • other places that are open to the public.

Read on to learn which animals qualify as service animals in Maryland and which public accommodations are covered. You'll also learn some rules you need to know when you have your service animal in a public place.

Which Animals Are Covered in Maryland?

The ADA and Maryland law protect your right to have a service animal in public accommodations. But each law defines "service animal" a bit differently. If you're disabled, you have the right to rely on whichever law offers the most protection.

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. The tasks a service animal might be trained to do include things like:

  • pulling a wheelchair
  • detecting the onset of a seizure
  • picking up dropped items
  • alerting individuals with impaired hearing 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 trained to perform disability-related tasks for someone with a physical or mental disability. In some cases, a miniature horse can also qualify as a service animal. Examples of service animals that must be allowed into public accommodations under the ADA include:

  • hearing dogs—trained to alert hearing-impaired handlers to important sounds like smoke alarms and doorbells
  • guide dogs—trained to help someone who's blind or visually impaired navigate safely
  • psychiatric service animals—trained to 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—trained to detect impending seizures and alert their owners, and sometimes to guard their handlers during seizure activity, and
  • allergen alert animals—trained to let their handlers know of foods or other substances that could be dangerous (such as peanuts).

Emotional support animals (ESAs) aren't covered by either public accommodation law. Since both Maryland law and the ADA only cover animals trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities, neither law protects your right to have an emotional support animal in public accommodations.

Even though the presence of an ESA can be therapeutic for someone with psychiatric or emotional conditions, they don't qualify as service animals under state or federal law. But some federal protections exist for having an emotional support animal in your home (see below).

How Do State and Federal Law Define "Public Accommodation" in Maryland?

Maryland's disability rights law gives people the right to bring their service animals to the following places:

  • on all modes of transportation and common carriers, such as:
    • buses
    • trains
    • ferries, and
    • other types of transport
  • into all places where the public is invited, and
  • into all places of public accommodation.

The Maryland law doesn't further define what counts as a public accommodation. But the ADA does.

The ADA definition of public accommodation is very broad. Under the ADA, the definition of public accommodations includes all of the following:

  • stores, including sales and rental establishments
  • lodging establishments, such as:
    • hotels and motels
    • vacation rentals and resorts
    • cabins and campgrounds, and
    • bed and breakfasts and inns
  • public transportation terminals, depots, and stations
  • restaurants and other places that serve food and drink
  • garages and other service establishments
  • educational institutions, including:
    • public schools
    • private school
    • colleges, and
    • dormitories
  • any place of public gathering, including auditoriums and convention centers
  • places of entertainment and exhibit, like theaters or sports arenas
  • golf courses, bowling alleys, and other places of exercise or recreation
  • recreational facilities, such as amusement parks and zoos
  • libraries, museums, and other places where items are collected or displayed publicly, and
  • social service centers like senior centers and food banks.

Are Churches and Private Clubs Public Accommodations Under the ADA?

Religious entities, such as churches, synagogues, and mosques, aren't considered public accommodations under the ADA—even if the religious entity offers secular services. For instance, a daycare operated by a church that admits children not affiliated with the church isn't covered under the ADA.

Private clubs generally also aren't covered by the ADA. But to qualify for the exemption, the club must meet all the following criteria:

  • be a member-controlled nonprofit group
  • be highly selective about who can join
  • charge substantial membership fees, and
  • wasn't created just to avoid compliance with civil rights laws.

But if a private club makes facilities available to nonmembers, it's subject to the ADA's public accommodation rules in those facilities.

The Rules for Having Service Animals in Public in Maryland

Both 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. But these laws do allow you to be charged for any damage your animal causes. And since emotional support animals aren't covered by the ADA or Maryland's service animal laws, you can be charged extra if an establishment permits you to have your ESA.

The ADA allows a public accommodation to exclude your service animal if it poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. For example, the facility can kick the dog out if your dog is aggressively barking and snapping at other customers. Your animal can also be excluded if it's not housebroken or it's out of control and you don't (or can't) bring it under control.

Although both state and federal law require an animal to be trained to be considered a service animal in Maryland, under the ADA, a public accommodation can't demand to see certification or other proof of your animal's training or status. And the law doesn't allow establishments to ask you about your disability.

If it isn't apparent what your service animal does, the establishment can ask you only whether it's a service animal and what tasks it performs for you.

Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals Under State and Federal Housing Laws in Maryland

Maryland law requires landlords to allow service animals for their tenants with disabilities. You can't be required to pay extra to have your service animal, but just as with a public accommodation, you can be charged for damage the animal causes to the rental unit.

The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination in housing accommodations against those who use service animals. Like Maryland state law, the FHA protects your right to full and equal access to all housing facilities. The federal housing law also prohibits landlords from charging extra for having a service animal (except charges for damage your animal causes).

If your lease or rental agreement includes a "no pets" provision, it doesn't apply to your ESA or service animal.

But the federal housing law is broader than Maryland law or the ADA. The FHA protects your right to have an "assistance animal" in your home. And the law defines assistance animals as those that assist individuals with disabilities in the following ways:

  • doing work
  • performing tasks, and
  • providing therapeutic emotional support.

Under the FHA, housing facilities must allow service dogs and emotional support animals. To be protected by this provision, you must have a disability and 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 to qualify.

Learn how federal law handles flying with your service dog or emotional support animal.

Updated May 3, 2023

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